* Toyota's first overhaul of Tundra since 2007
* Pickup trucks are lucrative slice of U.S. auto market
* Chicago Auto Show opens for media previews on Thursday
By Deepa Seetharaman
CHICAGO, Feb 7 Toyota Motor Corp
unveiled a redesigned Tundra pickup truck on Thursday with a
back-up camera, easier-to-use controls and other features
designed to take advantage of the lucrative U.S. truck market's
Toyota last overhauled the Tundra in 2007 to crack a market
for full-work trucks dominated by General Motors Co, Ford
Motor Co and Chrysler Group LLC. At the time,
Toyota executives referred to the Tundra as their most important
product launch ever.
But the 2007 Tundra launch coincided with a slowdown in U.S.
home construction that hurt truck sales that year and forced the
Japanese automaker to pile on incentives to win over buyers.
This time, however, truck sales are on pace to outstrip the
gains seen by the overall U.S. auto industry. Analysts expect
the trend to persist this year as the housing market improves
and automakers launch an array of new models.
"Last time around their timing was off," TrueCar.com analyst
Jesse Toprak said, referring to Toyota. "This time, their timing
is pretty good in terms of the housing market correlation."
The 2014 Tundra, on display at the Chicago Auto Show, which
opens for media previews on Thursday, faces stiff competition.
Chrysler launched a redesigned Ram 1500 last autumn, while GM
will introduce redesigned versions of the Chevrolet Silverado
and the GMC Sierra this spring.
Next year, Ford will have an overhauled F-150 truck, while
Nissan Motor Co's U.S. arm will launch a redesigned
Titan pickup truck.
Toyota also must appeal to today's consumers, who are less
likely to be so-called lifestyle buyers, or those who are
enamored of the truck's image but do not really need it for
work, Toprak said.
Buyers are more interested in the truck's capability and
power than with its plush interior and visual appeal.
"It doesn't matter in terms of the styling of the truck,
most truck buyers don't care about that stuff anyway," Toprak
said. "What matters is the value proposition. That's what
Tundra's lacked so far."
The Tundra accounted for 6 percent of the full-size U.S.
truck market last year, while the F-Series made up 38.5 percent,
according to auto research firm Edmunds.com.
The Chevrolet Silverado held 25 percent of U.S. market share
in 2012. Ram took 17 percent last year, while the GMC Sierra was
9.4 percent, according to the Edmunds.com data.
The 2014 Tundra is expected to arrive at dealerships in
September. As with the 2007 model, Toyota drew heavily on focus
groups in its latest overhaul.
"Tundra's new exterior design and all-new interior were
inspired by customer feedback requesting a more chiseled
exterior and refined interior," Bill Fay, head of U.S. sales for
the Toyota brand, said.
Fay said at the show that he expects the U.S. industry's
full-size pickup truck segment to grow about 10 percent in the
next two years, hitting 1.8 million sales by 2015. He said the
increased demand may prompt some consumers to reconsider the
brands, offering Toyota an opportunity for growth.
Last year, U.S. industry sales of full-size trucks rose 9
percent to almost 1.64 million vehicles. Toyota's Tundra sales
last year rose 22.6 percent to 101,261 vehicles.
Toyota now offers Bluetooth wireless technology as a
standard feature to make hands-free phone calls on the 2014
Tundra. The audio, heating and cooling controls are 2.6 inches
closer to the driver to improve ergonomics in the new truck,