History Of Toyota Trucks In The United States - SUV VEHICLE

History Of Toyota Trucks In The United States

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Summary

  • Toyota pickups, from the Hilux to the Tundra, have left an indelible mark on American truck culture for over 50 years.
  • The Toyota Tacoma, specifically designed for the North American market, has seen steady sales growth and remains a versatile favorite.
  • Toyota trucks, known for durability and reliability, have earned a place in American hearts as some of the best trucks ever owned.



There is no mode of transportation more associated with America than the pickup truck. Springing forth from the genius mind of Henry Ford over 100 years ago, the pickup became a staple of the working class, with a vehicle that could handle all the heavy lifting and dirty jobs. Chevrolet and Dodge came upon the pickup concept around the same time, and together, trucks from the Big Three American automakers literally built this country.

As iconic as American pickups are to our heritage, a few imported trucks have managed to penetrate our culture, becoming nearly as significant. The Mazda B-Series trucks enjoyed success in the States, both on its own and as the badge-engineered Ford Courier. The Isuzu Faster was similarly popular as the Chevrolet LUV and Datsun, now Nissan, did well in the U.S. with compact pickups. No imported truck, however, has had an impact on the American market and culture, like the Toyota pickup.


Starting with the Hilux, Toyota trucks quickly earned the reputation of being the most durable and reliable compacts in their class. As the truck evolved, it became a favorite off-road toy because of its nimble maneuvering and affordable price. Toyota eventually branched out to the mid-size and full-size truck segments, bringing the quality and style they were known for. The history of the Toyota pickup in America is one of determination and innovation, from the humble Hilux to the impressive Tundra.

In order to give you the most up-to-date and accurate information possible, the data used to compile this article was sourced from Toyota, and other authoritative sources, including MotorTrend, and Car And Driver.

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Toyota Hilux Rise To Dominance


The history of Toyota pickups in America technically begins with the Stout 1900, which was sold here between 1964 and 1967. Then again, the light truck wasn’t exactly a big seller, moving just four units in its first year, so perhaps Toyota’s American odyssey begins with the Hilux, which hit our shores in 1969.

The compact Japanese import was initially offered in regular cab configuration, with a short truck bed, rear-wheel drive, and an 85-horsepower 1.9-liter I-4 engine, paired with a four-speed manual transmission. It was small and slightly underpowered, but it was a solid ride with an ever-better price, starting around $2,000.

Toyota Hilux Fun Facts:

  • Produced from 1968-Present
  • 17.7 million units sold in the first 50 years of production
  • Sold in over 180 countries and regions
  • Annual sales top 500,000
  • Almost 200,000 were sold in America
  • The least amount of Hilux trucks have been sold in Japan


(Hilux facts sourced from Toyota Global)

By 1972, the Hilux came with a peppier 108-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder, making it a much better performer. The true genius behind the Hilux was that Toyota recognized, before any other truckmaker, that people didn’t just use pickups for work, but also as daily drivers, so they built them with comfortable interiors and suspensions.

To get around the Chicken Tax, which imposed a 25 percent tariff on imported light trucks, Toyota shipped the Hilux to the United States without truck beds. The chassis cabs would arrive in Long Beach, California, where they were fitted with locally produced truck beds, resulting in a more palatable 4 percent import tax.


The Pickup Formerly Known As Hilux

Starting in 1973, the “Hilux” name was dropped for pickups sold in North America, becoming simply the Toyota “Truck.” In 1975, it was radically redesigned to be larger as well as coming with more standard equipment. This was also the introduction of the SR5 (Sport Runabout 5-Speed) upscale trim package, which obviously came with the newly available five-speed transmission. Another significant redesign came in 1978 when the Toyota Truck was finally available in four-wheel drive, which was a game changer for the imported pickup.

The Toyota TOY

By the 1980s, off-roading became a mainstream activity and the relatively affordable 4×4 Toyota Truck was a favorite with enthusiasts. In fact, it was not uncommon to see owners peel off the “OTA” from the tailgate, so it read simply: “TOY.” The 1984 model year introduced the Xtracab, which was mainly for additional in-cab storage.


By 1988, the Xtracab was expanded to allow for jumpseats, but America would never get the four-door quad cab Hilux that was sold in the rest of the world. The final generation of the Toyota Truck in the U.S. saw it come with available diesel, turbo, and V-6 engine options. After an amazing run, the Truck was retired, and replaced by the Toyota Tacoma in 1995.

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Enter The Toyota Tacoma

2012 Toyota Tacoma In black Posing on desert terrain
Toyota

The Toyota Hilux continues to be sold around the world to this day, everywhere except North America, where the Truck had a 23-year run before being replaced by the Tacoma in the mid-1990s. For the first time since 1973, a Toyota pickup had a name in the U.S., though sort of a curious one.

Trucks and SUVs tend to get named after rugged outdoorsy places like the GMC Sierra or the Dodge Durango, but the latte-chugging hipsters and mopey grungesters of Tacoma, Washington don’t exactly conjure up images of insane 4×4 action. As it turns out, Tacoma is the local indigenous people’s name for Mount Rainier, so it slides by on a technicality.


Select Tacoma Sales Figures:

  • 2005 – 168,811 units
  • 2013 – 159,485 units
  • 2018 – 245,659 units
  • 2019 – 248,801 units
  • 2021 – 252,490 units

The Tacoma was introduced in February 1995, and was designed specifically for the North American market. This first-gen was still a compact truck that was available in regular cab, extended cab, and finally a four-door crew cab. RWD and 4WD were once again available and the five-speed manual transmission was standard, with an available four-speed automatic. The engine options got better, from the standard 142-horsepower 2.4-liter I-4 to the available 190-horsepower V-6. An aftermarket Toyota Racing Development (TRD) supercharger kit jacked that V-6 up to 254 ponies. The Tacoma was a more refined, performance-oriented pickup but not quite as cheap as its predecessor.


The Tacoma Grows A Pair

The 80s and 90s glory days of the mini-truck were over by the 2000s and the Toyota Tacoma grew with the times, becoming a mid-size pickup for the 2005 model year. The bigger, more powerful Tacoma had a mind-blowing eighteen different configurations, with three cab styles, four transmissions, two engines, two-bed lengths, and two powertrains. The second-gen Tacomas offered a variety of awesome TRD off-road packages but also had a killer limited edition street machine. From 2005 through 2013, the Tacoma X-Runner tore it up with a dropped suspension and a 245-horsepower 4.0-liter V-6.

Tacoma Goes High-Tech

The problem with the Tacoma, if it can be called that, is that Toyota made it too perfect with a great balance of style, performance, comfort, and features, so there wasn’t any room to improve upon it. For the third generation, starting with the 2015 model year, the only thing necessary was to upgrade the tech with a better Infotainment system, exterior cameras, and driver assistance features. For the latest generation, unleashed in 2024, the Tacoma got some new aggressive styling and a 326-horsepower hybrid engine option, but remains the solid, versatile pickup truck it has been since its introduction in 1995.


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Toyota Goes Beast-Mode With The Tundra

2024 Toyota Tundra SR In red Posing on top of rocky terrain
Toyota Newsroom 

In Japanese, kaiju means “strange beast” and is used to describe the giant monsters of cinema like Godzilla and King Ghidorah. Toyota has been known forever as a compact pickup manufacturer, but they realized that Americans like big trucks too, so they went kaiju with their pickups in the early 90s to try to capture some of that market. Well, technically, the first Toyota attempt at a full-size pickup wasn’t exactly a monster, but they were new to the medium and would eventually create a beast with the Tundra.

Toyota T100 Is Not Exactly a Terminator

1995 Toyota T100
Walldo123/Wikimedia Commons


In the Terminator movies, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s model is a T-800, which is a cybernetic organism, with living tissue over a hyperalloy endoskeleton, while the liquid metal Terminator is a T-1000. In 1993, Toyota got into the full-size truck segment with the T100, but it was hardly a Ford F-Series killer. In fact, it was fairly small and more comparable to the mid-sized Dodge Dakota, plus it was woefully underpowered, using the same 150-horsepower from the Hilux/Truck.

Toyota eventually got a little more power in the T100, but it never came up with a V-8 version and sales were poor. The T100 was discontinued in 1998, which sounds like a failure, but it paved the way for something truly awesome.


The Toyota Tundra Brings The Thunder

Introduced for the new millennium, the Tundra was the full-size pickup that Toyota was always meant to build. Not only was it actually full-sized, it had an available V-8 with an optional supercharger that cranked out 300 horsepower. It came with every conceivable configuration and had tons of killer off-road packages, plus it had Toyota’s bullet-proof quality, making it one of the best truck lines ever made.

In the second generation, it got a 5.7-liter V-8, with the optional supercharger, that was capable of a 13.0-second quarter-mile. For the current generation, the Tundra got with the times, adding twin-turbo and hybrid engine options, as well as bold new styling, to make it one of the most popular trucks on the market.

2022 Tundra TRD Pro Power and Performance

Engine

3.4-liter twin-turbo V-6 hybrid

Horsepower

437 horsepower

Torque

583 pound-feet

Transmission

10-speed automatic

0-60 Time

5.7 seconds

Quarter-mile

14.5 seconds

Top Speed

106 MPH (gov. lmtd.)


(Performance stats sourced from Car and Driver)

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Legacy Of The Toyota Pickup

2024 Toyota Tundra Platinum
Toyota

With the Hilux, way back in the 1960s, Toyota tried and succeeded in bringing a basic utilitarian vehicle to America that was both practical and affordable. Out of that grew a truck legacy that’s just as much a part of American truck culture as the Ford F-Series or Dodge Ram.

While their pickups started out as imports, they are now built in the U.S. with, according to Toyota, the Tacoma being manufactured in California and the Tundra in Texas. Lots of American trucks, like certain Chevy Silverados and Ram 1500s are actually built in Mexico, so the lines for a domestically produced pickup are blurred.


MotorTrend Truck of the Year Winners:

  • 1989 Toyota Xtracab SR5 V-6
  • 2000 Toyota Tundra
  • 2005 Toyota Tacoma
  • 2008 Toyota Tundra

(Sourced from MotorTrend)

Toyota has been selling great trucks, that have been a part of American lives for over 50 years, so they are officially part of our shared cultural heritage. They also continue to make some of the best pickups on the road, so it’s not ancient history, but current relevancy.

The real impact and legacy of the Toyota pickup in America, however, is this: Ask anyone who has ever owned a Toyota pickup, this editor included, and they will respond that it is the best damn truck they ever owned. With proper maintenance, a Toyota truck will provide a lifetime, or at least 300,000 miles of pure driving enjoyment and look cool the entire time.

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