MMR Blog

My Word: TRUCKS ‘N TEXAS

Posted on May 8, 2014 Comments (1)

by Denise McCluggage

Once again the best selling cars in the US are trucks. That’s the norm, much to the surprise of city folk. For a while there, fuel uncertainty and price fluctuations put the Toyota Prius, a hybrid, in the top sales position. Now according to the report I read the Prius has dropped back to 20th. Sorry, P., you’ll simply have to carry more stuff, look more macho and use more fuel to maintain your standing with real Amurrican buyers.

Other news headlining pick-ups was the word Toyota is moving its national headquarters from California to Texas. A move I wonder about but I reckon it is economically appealing to Toyota. The announcement led “The Detroit Bureau”, an automotive news site, to wonder if maybe such a move would help boost the sales of Toyota pick-ups. “Not unless they return to building the T100,” said my young friend J.P. Gonzales. We were testing the Toyota Tundra that had darkened my driveway on a recent afternoon with its huge crewcabness. Several age-20-something guys I know, like J.P., have a deep fondness for early 4Runners and early Tacoma and T100 pick-ups. The ones that either now seem small or Just Right in size, depending on your druthers.

Toyota T100

The T100 was called full-sized thanks to its 8′ bed but the compact size V6 engine and a smallish cab appealed to only sensible folk in search of economy. Not the demographic naturally drawn to pick-ups in droves. The apparent failure of the T100 left Toyota puzzled and searching for the gen-u-wine secret of building a real pick-up. They are still doing that because it still eludes them.

Early on, like in the ‘70s, the Japanese car makers sent the US under-sized pick-ups with such names as the Chevy LUV. Later when Chevy offered its S10, Isuzu, maker of the LUV, just revealed its true identity and called their product the P’Up. Remember that?

The market was bubbling with these handy critters. I described them as “useful as elves.” Mazda had a lovely one and its Ford relative, the Ranger, kept on for a long time. Even appeared in an electric version a few years ago with lots of promise but mostly question marks from Ford dealers. Great fleet trucks for plumbing businesses, heating and cooling guys, electricians, I thought. They could roll out on the job all day then come back to snuggle up to pig-mama for the night and re-juice their batteries. Those batteries were spread out under the slightly shallower bed which put weight low enough to add neat handling tricks to this trucklet. I was right excited about that Ranger. But the idea took selling and apparently no one in a Ford shirt knew how so the whole line just faded away.

Now the demand for the elfin trucks is strong again but apparently not enough to make business sense to possible manufacturers. Instead potential buyers are having compact sedans converted to compact pick-ups. Surely someone will come up with the right size at the right time and price and grace the market with what it wants. But come to think of it, don’t count on it. Chevy has a smaller truck planned for 2015 but wanna bet it will be too big?

But let’s consider Texas for a moment. Or as I think of it—“Texas”. That means it is more myth than reality and more weird than sense-making. Having lived for so many years in New Mexico, which literally sits on the lap of “Texas”, I lean more to the less-than-favorable views many states have for their neighbors. That attitude began early enough when I encountered vacationers from “Texas”, or folks from there who had a New Mexico house as well (for escaping an essentially unlivable climate and partaking of pleasures nonexistent in “Texas” such as skiing.)

Too often such people begin to think that everyone in their second-home state worked for them and didn’t do a good job of it. They showed this in haughty demeanor and, worse, in voices louder than the norm and in an accent that really never traveled well. In those early days in New Mexico my mother might be visiting me from California. We might be shopping and a crowd, yes, crowd of two of these “Texas” visitors, pink cashmere cardigans over their shoulders, might sweep in. Mom would signal with a roll of her eyes and we’d amble out the door. My mother grew up on a farm in Kansas and felt superior to no one, and she preferred not to be near anyone who did.

All this made me particularly appreciative of a bumper sticker I saw early in my New Mexico residence: “If God had meant Texans to ski He would have made bullshit white.” I can make the usual disclaimer of having good friends who live in “Texas.” They might even think of themselves as Texans but I never could.

What has this to do with Toyota moving to Texas? (Dallas, generally. Plano, specifically.) Jim Lentz, the Toyota exec in charge, says exec things like the move is to do things like consolidate their leadership in one geographical spot, have direct flights to Japan near, etc. Business climate (read anti-union policies), tax incentives, and all those lollypops that “Gov. Rick Perry” (mythical like “Texas”) hands out to businesses have nothing to do with it. Lentz still hopes to sell Toyotas in California so he’s not going to badmouth the place. He didn’t say California has an anti-business attitude. But he wasn’t polite enough to give Torrance, where Toyota headquarters have been since 1957, any hint that the company was pulling out.

Though Toyota’s standing in vehicles sales has not been permanently damaged by all its recent recall experiences and public relation stumbles it has nonetheless taken a record blow in fines for the ham-fisted way it handled the recalls. And believe it—the company is enjoying a hearty welcome from “Texas” that benefits the company’s finances. Businesses are called businesses because their main business is benefitting financially. Toyota is a successful business.

But enough about all that courting and wooing and pretending. What about the people relocating to Texas. Or maybe simply losing their jobs. Actually when Nissan pulled the leave-California stunt several years ago relocating to Nashville far fewer of the people they wanted to take with them wanted to go. Wonder if Toyota will experience that?

And how will being a “Texas” company affect their quest to discover pick-upness and build a contender for the Ford-Chevy-Ram bouts? How much did joining the world of NASCAR racing help?

Totota Tundra 2014

J.P. sort of liked the Tundra and so did I. Sort of. The interior is better than it was but still not particularly appealing to me. We kept saying “It’s big.” Yeah. This is the CrewMAX which is like a full-size SUV with a shortened pick-up bed behind. It’s a challenge to get in and out but I rather like that in a pick-up. Clamber up—well-placed handles for pulling. Sliding out with a moment of free fall is easier. The optional running board is advisable.

The latest Tundra has a choice of two engines, one a 5.7 liter V8 that will get you and its ton-ship (5872 pounds) to 60 in 6.8 seconds. Is that important in a pick-up? A sense of adequate power and confidence. I like that. But I don’t need to know numbers. Anyway our Tundra had the 4.6 liter V8 which I found perfectly adequate and offered better mileage. (Not worth mentioning. If mileage matters to you get a truck with a diesel.)

Some big pick-ups manage to drive small. This Tundra did not let you forget “it’s big.” Unnecessarily I thought. As for the driving, I liked the steering. Probably because it is hydraulic which J.P. and I both (generally) prefer over electric. Good brakes, too. And it had a rather peaceful quiet while underway. I was told the big engine is not like that.

J.P. kept wishing it was a T100. I kept wishing it was, what? A Toyota Tundra has for me, even with this new one, left a question hanging in the air. What I said as I slipped to the ground. “Well, Toyota’s made a pretty good imitation of a pick-up truck.”

I don’t see how “Texas” is going to change that, but I’ll keep watching.