High-end versions of the 2014 Toyota Tundra indicate a shift in focus from volume to profit.
A new 1794 edition, along with significantly richer looking Platinum and Limited models, all offer distinctive exterior trim with premium, tech-laden interiors. Although the Tundra has always featured a relatively nice interior and improves across the line with the redesign, these models, particularly the 1794, clearly seek someone other than the typical truck buyer.
"We hope we can capture a specific niche segment of the market, in terms of Toyota loyalists and upper and higher grades," says Toyota Motor Sales chairman Yoshimi Inaba.
Toyota wasn't thinking "niche" back in 2006, when it introduced the previous-generation Tundra. Toyota hoped its brawny, Texas-built truck would become a big player in one of America's biggest segments. That hasn't happened. For all of Toyota's effort, Americans still buy more than six Ford F-150s for every Tundra.
"This is a very loyal market, very hard getting into," says Inaba.
If Toyota can't sell nearly as many trucks as competitors, it makes sense for it to try to make more money on each one, says Jim Hall of 2953 Analytics.
"Their volume says they have to have special territory."
That's not to say Toyota is inventing anything new. General Motors, Ford, and Ram all have special editions commanding upwards of $45,000.
"The market is going there. We're responding to customer needs," says Inaba.
Toyota is even imitating the gentleman cowboy theme set by the Ram Longhorn and F-150 King Ranch. The 1794 model is a reference to an old San Antonio ranch that opened in that year and operated until Toyota bought its land for the Tundra factory. Saddle colored leather--the highest grade in any Toyota-branded model--adorns the seats, dash, and door panels. Toyota will continue to offer Platinum and Limited models, which likewise have noticeably richer cabins than in the previous generation.
Toyota hopes these higher-end trucks will find more sophisticated, less fanatically loyal buyers than the typical work truck--the sort of buyer who may already have a European or Japanese luxury car in the garage.
The 1794's styling seems to speak to this more sophisticated buyer. The two-tone grille--matte aluminum with a chrome surround--is more refined than what's on other Tundras and is far less in-your-face than most of the special-edition trucks from the Detroit Three.
None of this means Toyota is completely giving up on mainstream trucks. The Tundra will continue to come in plenty of flavors, including the utilitarian SR. But it seems the days when Toyota dreamed of selling them to hundreds of thousands of Ford, Chevy, and Ram owners are long gone.
"They know they're not going to sell that kind of volume," says Hall, adding, "In a way, it's kind of liberating."