The Toyota truck story began over 70 years ago, and through those years Toyota has emerged as a true contender within the North American truck market. From small trucks to desirable SUVs to a full-size pickup, Toyota has come a long way.
The Man Who Started it All…
To trace the history of the Toyota truck means going back to the beginnings of the Toyota story. And that starts with the tale of the formation of one of the world’s most successful and innovative industrial production companies. That story’s genesis was written in 1890 when Sakichi Toyota invented the wooden Toyoda handloom, which led to the founding of the Toyoda Automatic Loom Co.
Sakichi’s son, Kiichiro, born in 1894, was a child of the coming new century. As such, he was deeply interested in industrial progress, in mechanization, and especially in the automobile. He was so interested, in fact, that in 1929 he visited both Europe and the United States to investigate automobiles and their production, stopping along the way to visit Henry Ford, the man many consider to be the father of mass production.
The very next year, Kiichiro began his research into internal-combustion engines, and soon after that, in 1935, a discrete automotive department was established within Toyoda Automatic Loom.
Toyota’s G1: the Truck that Started it All
None of this was the result of mere idle tinkering of a hobbyist, as the appearance of Toyoda’s first truck, the G1, proved. Development of the G1, shown to the public in November of 1935, and approved for sale two weeks later, led to the formal establishment of the Toyota Motor Company, in 1937.
Any further plans Toyota had for its truck production took a sharp turn when war intervened, though Toyota continued to build on its truck line with the production of the KB in 1942 and the KC in 1943.
Post-War Small Trucks Emerge
With the end of World War II in 1945, though much of Japan’s production capacity had been destroyed, some of Toyota’s production capacity had been spared. Thanks to that, Toyota was able to introduce the BM truck, and a smaller SB truck, in 1947. Interestingly, the BM was powered by a version of the 75-horsepower B-series engine that would power the famed Land Cruiser. It was developed into the later BX and FX heavy trucks. Of much greater interest, however, is the small SB truck, the first Toyota pickup. A development of the Toyota sedan called the SA, it used a conventional two-door cab on a steel ladder chasses and it derived its power from SA’s efficient 995cc engine.
The Land Cruiser FJ40 Brings Toyota Trucks to North America
This roots-and-branches approach to automotive design and development was evident across all Toyota’s activities; even as the company was developing its light-truck line, it also was busy developing the predecessor of the famed and venerated 4x4 Land Cruiser FJ40. That was the BJ, the first Land Cruiser, an important branch of Toyota’s truck activities and as such, the branch of the company that would quite literally allow the company to take root in North America.
Toyota had developed a company motto that could easily be adopted today. It was, “Good thinking, good products.” Part of that good thinking resulted, in 1952, in the small SG pickup, a compact that was very much influenced by North American-style design. In fact, the SG looks a great deal like a downsized version of a 1950s International Harvester pickup, with its practical, upright grille and windscreen.
But it didn’t stop there. Toyota continued to move forward with ever-better, more efficient designs, including the RK truck in 1953 and the SBK Toyo Ace in 1953. Interestingly, this last name remains in contemporary use as the designator for a light, cab-forward commercial truck.
The First truck arrives in North America: the FJ45 Pickup
Early on, Toyota was not only exploring, but actively exploiting, overseas markets. So it was only a matter of time until the company turned its attention toward North America and its seemingly insatiable appetite for cars and trucks.
It started with a sedan called the Crown, and with the fabled Land Cruiser. And it was a pickup version of the Land Cruiser, a model called the FJ45 that was the very first Toyota pickup to arrive in North America. Though the FJ45 was sold for just one year, it was a very capable truck. And it became a valuable and collectable rarity.
Opening the Floodgates: the Hilux
In 1964, Toyota launched its first stand-alone small pickup truck in North America, the Stout. The half-ton 4x2 Stout was powered by an 86 horsepower, 1.9L four-cylinder engine. That first year, sales were inauspicious, to say the least. Just four Stouts were sold in 1964. But the next year, things were looking up, as more than 900 were sold. After another year of modest sales in 1966 the Stout was discontinued in 1967 as Toyota engineers set their sights on a truck that would meet the needs of the mainstream truck market.
That truck was the HiLux, the truck that opened the floodgates of success for Toyota in the domestic light-truck market. The HiLux, launched in 1969, proved to be a reliable, inexpensive truck that thrived on work. The all-new HiLux was powered by a new 1.9L, four-cylinder engine that produced 108 horsepower. By contemporary standards it was somewhat Spartan inside (as trucks were utility vehicles first and foremost at that time), with a metal dashboard and single bench seat.
This first HiLux was equipped with a curious and predominant styling element: the truck’s turn-signal indicators were placed on top of the truck’s front fenders. This unusual placement was designed to take advantage of holes already stamped in the fenders at Toyota’s manufacturing plants in Japan. They were there because of a Japanese law requiring that for home-market use, all vehicles must have rearview mirrors mounted on the top of the front fenders.
The next new truck arrived mid-year in 1972 and was the recipient of a dedicated styling effort, so its appearance was somewhat less utilitarian than in previous generations. And yes, those oddball turn signals were placed in a more conventional location. Typical for Toyota, this truck offered an option that quickly was adopted by other manufacturers. It was available with an extra-long cargo bed. So complete was this truck’s acceptance by North American enthusiasts that in 1974, it was named “Pickup Truck of the Year” by Pickup, Van & 4WD, a leading enthusiast magazine of the time.
Just call it the Toyota Pickup
Never resting on its laurels, Toyota raised the ante for 1975 with another new truck. This was powered by Toyota’s highly regarded 2.2L 20R engine. For the following year, there were few changes in metal, but there was an enormous philosophical change. In the North American market, the truck no longer was called the HiLux. Among enthusiasts, at least, it became simply the Toyota pickup – this at a time when so-called “mini-trucks” were rapidly gaining in popularity.
Another significant change came in 1977 with the introduction of the sporty SR5 model. With its five-speed manual transmission hooked to the powerful gasoline engine, the SR5 was intended to appeal to a new type of customer – the sport-truck buyer. Pickup, Van & 4WDmagazine was impressed.
The Legendary 22R
But this edition of the Toyota pickup had more than driving dynamics going for it. It also featured passenger comfort and convenience, something that was rare in pickups, which were considered to be targeted more toward work than play. Toyota’s 20R engine remained under the truck’s hood for two more years, but in 1981 the legendary 22R, an engine still in daily use, took its place under the hood of the truck.
Toyota Shocks Competitors with the 4WD Pickup
But something else, in addition to use of the powerful, long-lived 22R, made the 1981 Toyota truck a groundbreaking vehicle. Using technology and expertise gained from its experience with the Land Cruiser line, this was the year that Toyota shocked its competitors, and its potential customers, by offering four-wheel drive, complete with a two-speed transfer case that offered a low-range crawl ratio, in its compact truck line. This was a move that changed the face of the small truck market, forcing all other manufacturers to follow suit with their own four-wheel drive trucks.
After extensive competitive testing, the 4x4 Toyota truck was named “4x4 of the Year,” byPickup, Van & 4WD magazine.
The Xtracab adds Comfort and Convenience
The next model change came in 1984, and it saw additional upgrades that made the Toyota truck more comfortable and convenient. Not the least of these involved the advent of the Xtracab, which seemed to be tacit admission that the cabs of these trucks were indeed small. The Xtracab provided additional cab length behind the driver’s and passenger’s seats, space that was incredibly useful for secure storage of luggage and valuables. Turbo charging also made its appearance of both gas- and diesel-powered models.
The Evolution Continues: the 4Runner
In mid-1984, for the 1985 model year, Toyota brought to market a revolutionary new vehicle - the 4Runner. Based on the mechanicals of its rugged and strong-selling four-wheel drive pickup, truck, the 4Runner combined the versatility and go-anywhere ability of 4WD with the comfort and utility found in passenger cars. It had a fibreglass top covering the cargo area. This top could be removed for open-air driving.
The first -generation 4Runner was little more than a pickup truck with a covered rear cargo area. Its emphasis was on utility. With seats in the front only, the rear of the vehicle was intended to be used for cargo (or camping equipment, bicycles, etc.).
Toyota introduced a sixth evolution of the truck in 1986 and this was, for the first time, powered by a V6 engine. The Toyota truck was growing up. Performance was greatly improved, as was load-hauling and towing capabilities.
The Controversy of the T100
Indeed, this period of time, from 1988 to 1995, was perhaps the longest period of time in which a single generation was produced without major changes. Up until this point, loyal Toyota truck owners wanting a larger truck had to look to other manufacturers. But that changed in 1993, when enthusiasts of the Toyota truck – indeed, enthusiasts of all kinds of trucks – were treated to a look at something completely new and different. They witnessed the introduction of the T100.
The T100 was, and to an extent remains, controversial because it was considerably larger and more capable than the compact Toyota truck. But it was smaller than many of the other full-size trucks in the market. Because of this, many buyers weren’t sure what to make of it.
Still, powered by a new 3.0L V6 engine, it offered three-across seating, plenty of headroom, a larger cargo bed that was big enough to haul the industry-standard 4 x 8 foot sheet of plywood.
A year after the T100’s introduction Toyota took the unusual step of offering it with a smaller engine – it became available with an economical 2.4L four-cylinder engine, which could be equipped with a standard transmission. Those wanting an automatic were not disappointed – that was available with the V6-powered T100, as was four wheel drive.
The Big Bang: Tacoma
Proving that Toyota was not preoccupied with the T100 to the exclusion of its other trucks, when changes finally came to the Tacoma, they came with a bang: That’s because in 1995 Toyota debuted the Tacoma. Once again, the small pickup had a discrete model name, and it was designed and built especially for the North American market. As such, an enlarged 2.4L four-cylinder engine was standard on 2WD models, while 4WD models offered a 150 horsepower 2.7L four-cylinder engine producing 177 lb.-ft of torque. Optionally, a 3.4L V6 also was available.
The Tacoma was, with new engines, new suspensions and new bodywork, much less an evolutionary design than earlier trucks had been. This was a completely new vehicle that was designed to be used the way consumers used their trucks.
Toyota matched the changes made to the Tacoma in 1995 with an equally interesting set of changes to the T100. Power was upgraded, thanks to use of a 3.4L V6 engine, and interior spaced also was upgraded, thanks to the advent in this model of Toyota’s Xtracab.
For 1997, both truck likes acquired just minor changes, giving, perhaps, engineers and designers a little more time to breathe, and to consider their next moves. The T100 got some detail trim and tire enhancements, while in the Tacoma line, only a minor styling changed was made. The next year, however, was a different story. In 1998, the Tacoma PreRunner – a two-wheel-drive truck with offroad pretensions – was introduced and immediately accepted by buyers eager for something different, and eager for improved capabilities.
Taking it Tough: Tundra
In June of 1999, the company launched the Tundra, a truck that was much closer in size and capability to what consumers wanted in a full-size pickup. Built at an all-new plant in Princeton, Indiana, exclusively for the North American market, the Tundra was powered by Toyota’s all-new i-Force V8, a development of the high tech engine originally debuted in the Lexus line. Access Cab, with its lengthened cab, increased space with fold-down rear seats for occasional use and a set of rear clamshell-style doors to provide access to those seats.
But still Toyota was not done innovatingits truck line. In 2001, the Tacoma was upgraded with several important changes, not the least of which involved the appearance of the Double Cab model, a compact pickup truck with a large cab and four full-size doors.
For 2001, minor changes were made to Tacoma, such as two new exterior colours and upgrades including a three-in-one AM/FM/cassette/CD with six-disc-changer as an option on all SR5 and Limited models. In addition, a TRD Off Road package was now available.
Changes to Tundra came just two years later when, for the 2003 model year, Tundra received interior and exterior enhancements.
In the fall of 2003, as a 2004 model, came a significantly larger Tundra – the Tundra Double Cab, which was equipped not only with a longer, wider four-door cab, but with a six-foot three-inch cargo bed.
And in 2005, yet another all-new Tacoma debuted, with improved mechanical components, more power, better suspension and more room. The Tundra received a second minor change in 2005 with the performance-enhanced 4.7-litre V8 with VVT-I engine mated to a five-speed automatic transmission.
The Biggest Tundra yet
When the 2007 Toyota Tundra pickup arrived in North America in 2008, it created a stir among a loyal truck culture with its deep-seated roots. Toyota’s domination of NASCAR was an even bigger proving ground among loyal truck buyers. The second-generation Tundra was the largest truck Toyota had ever built. When it was updated for the 2010 model year, the Tundra proved it could add more power while reducing its fuel efficiency in a new 4.6 litre engine.
Closing the Chapter: 2010 4Runner
The latest chapter of truck history is built upon 25 years of proven capability in North America: the all-new 2010 4Runner. The passion of 4Runner drivers is evident in the fact that almost 65 per cent of 4Runners that were built for Canada are still on the road today. As many manufacturers are steering away from the body on frame SUV segment, Toyota faces an interesting opportunity to ensure that enthusiasts of this segment will not be left behind. The introduction of the all-new 2010 Toyota 4Runner brings on more power with less fuel required, plus additional off-road technologies, such as KDSS (Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System) and Crawl Control, making it more capable than ever before. It is now up to drivers to prove that the power, the passion and the performance lives on in the latest Toyota trucks.