(Photos by Dave Nutting) – Before last week I had never driven a Toyota Tundra. I have always viewed the Tundra as something akin to a character from a 1980s spy movie. You know the ones we’re talking about, the secret agent trained in his home country to assimilate into American culture and be part of society. It never worked out in the end. The bad guy would always be tripped up by some odd question or cultural nuance that even the most studied mimic couldn’t get right. I did my best to ditch such preconceived notions before driving the Tundra but I came away with my initial feeling cemented. This is a good truck and there’s no doubt that it is a quality truck, but is just isn’t a truck I can honestly say is better than its American competition for the same money. They’re built in Texas, they’ve got all kinds of beefy driveline parts, a V8 making the right sounds and 380hp, but there’s that whole assimilation thing I already mentioned. Somewhere between all the good stuff on paper and the tactile feel of operating the truck there’s a disconnect….a disconnect Toyota has become largely famous for in its quest for global domination and appliance motoring.
When Toyota made the investment to get into the half ton truck segment, it scared the Detroit manufacturers to their core. After seeing their market share erode over the decades on fronts like small cars and family sedans, it looked like trucks, the place where all the money was really made, would be next on the block. The feeling among many in the industry was along the line of, “The bastards killed our fathers and now they’re coming for us.”
Toyota was thundering along, gobbling up sales and customers at a rate even they couldn’t have seen coming. The world was their oyster and the eventual conquest of the great American light truck market was (to them) a seeming foregone conclusion. They built a plant in Texas capable of producing 300,000+ trucks a year, that would get them started and when they really put the throttle down and closed in on F-series levels of sales, they’d expand. But a funny thing happened. They’ve barely ever broken 200,000 a year in sales on the Tundra, the F-series continues to move more than 700,000 units year, and the Toyota while still a success by any other measure has never lived up to expectations. Why? Inferior quality? Lack of ability? Neither of those things are valid arguments because the truck does “truck stuff” as well as its competitors. As I said in a truck feature a couple weeks ago, Detroit never really screwed up on trucks. The door was opened for the Japanese on the small car and family car front due to faulty products, shoddy quality and bad designs from Detroit. But trucks? That never happened and buyers never really lost faith in American manufacturers to sell them a capable, rugged, and dependable pickup. I feel as though Toyota failed to understand this and looked at their entry into the half ton segment as they’d seen their entry into other parts of the market. It was part hubris and part lack of understanding in my opinion.
Nevertheless, the 2014 Toyota Tundra is the subject of this BangShifty road test. Like we always do, let’s tell the story through Dave Nutting’s awesome photos and my fair to midland captions!