The Toyota A-BAT (Advanced Breakthrough Aero Truck) interests us because it injects some much-needed new thinking into the pickup sector. The A-BAT offers substantial versatility, and yet it fights the gigantism that has become pervasive in the truck market--as evidenced by Toyota's own Tundra. The trapezoidal styling and high beltline give the A-BAT a big-truck look, but the concept is considerably smaller than the once-compact Tacoma and is about the size of a RAV4.
"We wanted to reinvestigate the compact truck and bring it into modern times," says Kevin Hunter, president of Toyota's West Coast design studio. And this at a time when conventional wisdom had given up compact trucks for dead.
The A-BAT is not only RAV4-sized, it also mirrors the popular crossover in its seating position and its unibody construction. Although it features four-wheel drive, the ground clearance is modest (about the same as a Highlander), as it's optimized for on-road use and urban environments, where today's pickups are unwieldy.
Toyota is getting more and more mileage out of its hybrid technology, so it is perhaps not surprising to see it here. Paired with a transverse-mounted, four-cylinder engine, the hybrid system has the potential to produce a real breakthrough in pickup fuel economy, which, with a few exceptions, seldom exceeds 20 mpg.
The A-BAT's other major innovations center around its cargo-carrying abilities. The truck features a midgate that extends the four-foot cargo box two feet into the passenger compartment. Dropping the tailgate adds another two feet of length, allowing the A-BAT to carry four-by-eight-foot building materials. Underbed storage is accessed via a drawer (an idea seen previously on the Dodge Rampage show truck). The four-seat cab features a large opening over the rear-seat area that allows tall items to poke through; and the rear seat-bottom cushions disappear backward, under the bed, rather than simply folding up.
"The truck market is ripe for a change," claims A-BAT chief designer Ian Cartabiano. He might hear some arguments from Honda dealers, whose lots are full of unsold Ridgelines, but perhaps a less expensive, more economical, and more compact offering would find a new audience. Here's hoping Toyota is brave enough to try.
Cool Details (pictured below)
1. The A-BAT's rear seatback can fold down, allowing the cargo bed to expand, Chevy Avalanche-style.
2. The cargo hold features pull-out storage bins in the side walls and a first-aid kit in the tailgate. Underbed storage is accessed via a rear drawer.
3. On top of the dashboard, the A-BAT has a solar panel that charges a portable battery pack. Toyota is studying this idea as a way to keep a car's battery charged when it is parked for long periods.