Q&A with Toyota's Ed Laukes shows the company will follow the market into pickups and SUVs
Toyota didn't unwrap any new sheet metal to mark the opening of the State Fair of Texas that serves as a major venue for pickups and other body-on-frame trucks, but the newly arrived Texas resident is preparing a new offensive.
With a new headquarters just outside of Dallas and a pickup plant in San Antonio, Toyota knows the stakes in the nation's No. 1 truck market along with the general drift of consumers toward more burly vehicles.
Ed Laukes, group vice president of marketing for Toyota, spoke to Automotive news Staff Reporter Laurence Iliff at Toyota's truck exhibit at the fairgrounds here where an estimated 2.5 million people or more will visit over the next three weeks.
Question: Is Toyota becoming more of a truck company?
A: Over 60 percent share of the industry is now in pickup trucks and SUVs, and we're responding to the marketplace by increasing Tacoma and Tundra and Highlander and RAV4 [output]. Last month we sold just shy of 43,000 RAVs. Who would have ever imagined that we would ever sell more than 40,000 RAVs in one month? You see the September numbers, the momentum is just continuing.
Q: Toyota is seeing much more competition in the midsize pickup category and yet is quickly building new plant capacity for the Tacoma. Why?
A: We still think the segment has room to grow. Especially among millennials, it's going to continue. So we're preparing for that. But we're not resting on our laurels. We're going to continue to work on all the improvements that are going to be necessary to keep Tacoma at the top of the class. So powertrains are obviously a big piece of anyone's equation as we work on CAFE standards.
Q: Is there any reason why you couldn't have a hybrid truck?
A: There's absolutely no reason we couldn't have a hybrid truck. All those options, we're exploring. When you're trying to raise you CAFE limits for the entire brand, there's no option that isn't on the table.
Q: You see the competition constantly updating their body-on-frame vehicles, so is it time for Toyota do the same with its aging platforms?
A: One hundred percent. We are working on that right now. To continue to be able to address that, we have to work on upgrades. Let's face it, the competition is getting stronger and stronger. Things like the [Ford] Ranger coming back. We have to be able to address that. Now, the Tacoma was completely redone. But 4Runner, Sequoia, Tundra ... those are being worked on as we speak.