DETROIT — In 2007, Toyota trumpeted its bulked-up Tundra as a game-changer that would cut into Detroit's dominance of the U.S. pickup market.
“The truck that's changing it all,” was the tagline from an ad featuring the beefy Tundra pulling a 10,000-pound trailer up a steep ramp.
But six years later, Toyota has learned that unlike car buyers, American pickup owners are fiercely loyal to their Fords, Rams and Chevrolets.
Toyota rolled out the 2014 Tundra on Thursday at the Chicago Auto Show, minus lofty sales goals or talk of breaking into Detroit's cash box. The new version goes on sale in September. The price and gas mileage haven't been announced.
Alec Gutierrez, senior market analyst for Kelly Blue Book, says Tundra won't lure new buyers unless it costs less or offers compelling features to make it different.
Longtime Detroit buyers agree. Jon Carey, who co-owns a drywall business near Ann Arbor, Mich., hauls tools and building materials with two Ram pickups bought in 2006. He sees no reason to switch.
“If you're just talking apples-to-apples, in my opinion, they'll never break into it,” Carey said of Toyota. “If they were giving the same price point, I don't know that I would necessarily switch. There would have to be some real reason behind it.”
The 2014 Tundra has a tougher squared-off look with a bold grille and more aerodynamic exterior, a more comfortable interior and a long list of practical and luxury features, such as a blind spot monitor and a standard backup camera.
But it lacks the type of changes Gutierrez hinted at. For instance, the choice of engines remains the same. Meanwhile, General Motors will offer more powerful and efficient motors with new Chevy and GMC full-size pickups that go on sale in spring. And Ford says its new F-series truck, due out next year, will weigh less to improve fuel economy.
Instead, the world's leader in auto sales seems happy to protect the Tundra's 6 percent share of the big pickup market — especially when truck sales are rising as the economy recovers from the Great Recession. Toyota's U.S. sales chief, Jim Lentz, said, “We're very comfortable with what our volume is in that segment.”
Truck-buyer loyalty gives companies such as Ford — which started building pickups in 1925, 40 years before Toyota sold its first pickup in the U.S. — a real edge. Last year, 36 percent of F-150 buyers traded in an F-150, according to Edmunds.com. That's better than the loyalty rate for Toyota's best-selling Camry sedan.
When Toyota's first big pickup came out in the early 1990s, it didn't measure up to the F-series, Chevrolet Silverado or Chrysler's Ram. Sales in 2006 were just under 125,000, compared to nearly 800,000 Ford F-series trucks sold.
But Toyota had its sights set on Detroit. The 2007 Tundra had a brawnier look, larger bed and 5.7-liter, 381-horsepower V-8. It was heavier, and its towing capacity increased. Toyota predicted sales of 200,000 a year. In 2007 it came close, selling almost 197,000.
Detroit soon updated its pickups with powerful, more efficient engines, new transmissions and innovative features. Then the financial crisis and recession hit, and truck sales fell. Tundra sales hit a low of 79,000 in 2009. About 102,000 Tundras were sold last year, less than one-sixth of Ford's 645,000.
The Detroit Three zealously defend the pickup turf. Big pickups make up about 30 percent of Ford's U.S. sales and nearly a quarter of GM's. Companies make $5,000 to $10,000 per truck, says Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting for LMC Automotive, an industry consulting firm. Detroit uses that cash to develop new cars and, it hopes, win back customers it's been losing to the Japanese for 30 years.