They may not be known for their trucks, but their trucks are known.
In the pickup truck world, you frequently hear about “The Big Three,” the three biggest producers of trucks in North America. Ford, GM and FCA may be selling more pickups than anyone else, but there is a fourth player in the segment, one that has a past as storied as the American manufacturers’ and who amassed a following as strong as that of its competitors. This fourth automaker, you guessed it, is Toyota.
Toyota has been building trucks for a long time. In fact, one of the first vehicles designed by Kiichiro Toyoda was the G1, a heavy-duty truck designed to carry cargo in an open area at the back. In 1935, this large truck loosely based on GM and Ford designs (Kiichiro traveled to America right before drawing this vehicle; there, he studied Henry Ford’s factories to gain a better idea of how to build vehicles in great numbers) was introduced throughout Japan. Local businesses bought them to support their country’s economy. Later, the company produced variants of the G1 and smaller trucks, too.
The very first Toyota truck to be sold in North America was actually a variant of the Land Cruiser SUV: called the FJ45, this dependable pickup quickly stated that the Japanese manufacturer was here to stay.
The first stand-alone pickup sold by Toyota came in 1964. That year, the Stout was launched… and didn’t really fly off dealership lots. Only four were sold. The next year, however, 900 buyers chose the little vehicle, proving to Toyota that the pickup trucks market was worth delving into.
And delve they did: in 1969, the HiLux was revealed. This light truck was powered by a 108-horsepower 1.9-liter engine and was pretty Spartan: it had little in the way of luxury, a single bench seat, and a metal dashboard. Also (here’s an interesting tidbit), the 1969 HiLux had turn signals located on the front fenders, right over the wheels. This is because, in Japan, a law stated that every vehicle must have rearview mirrors on their fenders. Since the HiLux already had holes punched in the fenders at the factory, why not put something there?
First-generation Toyota Hilux.
In 1981, Toyota did something nobody expected: they took the 4WD system of their Land Cruiser and adapted it to their pickup, creating a vehicle that could haul loads pretty much anywhere. This changed the segment, and in a few short years, all their competitors had to follow suit.
1999 was another big first for Toyota. They launched the Tundra, a true full-size pickup truck to go against the big players of the truck market. Back then, it was built in Indiana and was only sold in North America and came with a V8, which made it very competitive and appealing to US buyers. In 2007, the second generation of this brute became the largest vehicle ever built by Toyota.
Toyotas have been popular not only with regular buyers but also in Hollywood: movie producers have frequently chosen Tundras and Tacomas to star in their movies. We, of course, remember the Tacoma SR5 that Marty McFly drove in Back to the Future…
But it isn’t the only one. There is also the first-gen Tundra in Terminator 3 (Toyota even made a special-edition truck to commemorate this and about 800 were sold in North America), the heavily-modified Tacomas used in District9, and the large Tundra in the Bourne series. But the Toyota truck that has appeared in the most movies might surprise you: in every single Pixar movie, there is a little yellow pizza-delivering pickup. Look at it closer, and you’ll see that it is an old Hilux!
The Toyotas have also made their mark on television: Top Gear tried VERY hard to destroy a HiLux, and they just couldn’t kill it! Even after being buried in rubble from a collapsing building, the little red ‘Yota started right up! After seeing this, the UK show knew they could trust this vehicle: they chose the HiLux for a trip to the North Pole, where it became the first road-going vehicle to venture there. Three years later, they took the same truck and drove it on an active volcano, just because they could.
Oh, and let’s not forget that Toyota proved the Tundra’s reliability in the ultimate crucible: a heavily-modified example won the Dakar Rally in its class in 2012 and 2013.
All this proves two things. One, Toyota knows exactly what they are doing when they build a pickup. And two, when they say that the 2018 Tundra is the best truck they’ve ever made, that’s saying something.