Will Toyota Ever Offer a Heavy-Duty Truck?

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In a few months, Nissan will have its new Titan XD, a heavy-duty half-ton truck, on the market. This truck leaves Toyota and Honda as the only other truck makers not to offer one. While a heavy duty truck may not make sense for Honda, it makes sense for Toyota to keep expanding its truck lineup. Yet, will Toyota ever offer one? Probably not, here’s why.

First, let’s take a look at what we mean by “heavy duty.” The GMC Sierra HD line of pickups, for example, have a maximum payload — the weight they can carry in the cargo box — of 7,180 pounds. That’s almost 1,200 pounds more than a full-grown African forest elephant. A Toyota Tundra’s maximum payload is 2,060 pounds, less than the weight of a full-grown walrus. And that max payload is only in the regular cab trucks. If you want a back seat, you lose about 400 pounds worth of capacity.

The Tundra takes a major hit in towing, too. Ford F-350 Super Duty with dual rear wheels, the Powerstroke diesel and the available 4.30 rear axle ratio can tow a staggering 40,400 pounds. At the very outside, the Toyota Tundra can only yank about a quarter of that, at 10,500 pounds. With a Bobcat on a trailer, you’re bumping right up against the Tundra’s maximum towing capacity. If you’re hauling tools, and you’re running foam-filled tires instead of rubber tracks, you’re past it by 1,500 pounds.

With a revamped Toyota Tacoma hitting dealer lots, a relatively newly designed full-size truck selling quickly and a booming and profitable truck market, it seems logical Toyota would keep investing in the truck market. Many fans, RV owners and heavy-duty equipment haulers have been clamoring for an alternative to Ford, Chevrolet and Ram for years. While there have been rumors off and on, three key factors play into why Toyota doesn’t offer one:

Capacity – Toyota is currently working at full capacity with plans to add a third-shift at its San Antonio, Texas facility. Already, they have ramped up production at the Baja, Mexico facility to produce more Tacoma trucks. Maximizing plant production has been a key goal of Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda and it seems like with these changes, Toyota has done just that. With nowhere to build a heavy-duty truck, Toyota faces a key hurdle in developing one.

Competition – If you thought the full-size truck market was competitive, take a closer look at the heavy-duty segment. It has and continues to be dominated by Ford. Why? The HD truck market is full of commercial buyers and RV customers. These consumers have bought the same trucks for years and know how to work on them. Also, RV customers often depend more on the engine then they do the truck. Unless Toyota decides to use a name-brand diesel engine like a Cummins – long shot really since its usage cuts sharply into profits – they will not only have to sell consumers on the truck, but also the engine.

Cost – Likely the largest factor is cost. Engineers can’t just take a Toyota Tundra frame, strengthen it and then sell it as a heavy-duty. There is a lot more engineering that goes into it. A Ram rep told me once the difference between a half-ton and its heavy-duty trucks is like comparing a passenger car to a freight train locomotive. Everything is different.

Add in the capacity issue and the need to build a new factory, the investment grows into the many billions.

Ultimately, all of this time and expense equals a chance to get a small fraction of truck sales. If Toyota launched a new HD truck and got say a single-digit percentage of HD truck sales, it would be doing really, really well. Toyota would also only be selling a few thousand trucks. Not nearly enough to make back its investment. Without a strong business case showing a return on investment within a reasonable timeframe, it is hard to see Toyota offering a true HD truck. That’s too bad, competition is a great thing for the consumer.

Tim Esterdahl

Tim Esterdahl

Hailing from Western Nebraska, Tim has covered the automotive industry for many years. He has written for a variety of outlets including Truck Trend, Pickuptrucks.com, Tundraheadquarters.com and others. He is a married father of three and an avid golfer.