Sources: A-BAT A Go, Tundra Light-Duty Diesel Shelved
By: Mike Levine Posted: 09-22-08 00:01 ET
© 2008 PickupTrucks.com

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Update #2: 09-25-08 15:11 PT

A light-duty diesel Tundra pickup has indeed been placed on the backburner for the foreseeable future, Toyota senior vice president of automotive operations, Don Esmond, has told PickupTrucks.com at the 2008 State Fair of Texas.

"We've pushed back the [Tundra diesel] until we can figure out where the market is going," Esmond said, citing the dramatic slowdown in full-size truck sales thanks to the poor economy and high fuel prices.

Esmond said Toyota expects full-size pickup sales to fall as low as 1.6 million units this year, down from the 2.5 million peaks of 2004 and 2005. The current Tundra came to market in 2007 with annual sales estimates of 200,000 units per year. Just over 196,000 Tundras sold last year, but Esmond said Toyota is predicting only about 140,000 Tundras will be sold in 2008.

Esmond said recent market gyrations make it difficult to predict when the recovery in full-size truck sales might occur. Asked if the recovery might come in the near future or further out, Esmond said it's "probably further out."

While Toyota waits for the recovery, the company is moving its truck staff to other vehicle programs.

"We're prioritizing engineering resources assigned to the Tundra (diesel) elsewhere," Esmond said.

Chrysler, Ford and General Motors have all committed to selling light-duty diesels by 2010.

Update #1: 09-22-08 22:31 PT

Toyota group vice president for communications Irv Miller told AutoblogGreen that there is no official confirmation either way on the Tundra diesel. The company is currently re-evaluating all its truck programs and he couldn't offer a date when a final decision would be made.

In order to succeed in today's challenging truck market, Toyota is moving forward with plans to build a new small pickup and is indefinitely shelving a previously announced light-duty diesel engine for the full-size Tundra, sources tell PickupTrucks.com.

Toyota's future compact pickup is said to be based on the innovative A-BAT (Advanced Breakthrough Aero Truck) concept truck that debuted at the 2008 Detroit auto show. The A-BAT featured a footprint smaller than a Toyota RAV4 SUV, an expandable 4-foot cargo box and Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive.

Sources say two fuel-efficient powertrains will be offered in the truck at launch, including a gasoline-electric hybrid one and a four-cylinder gas-only version.

The only true compact offered in the segment today is the Ford Ranger. Its competitors, including the Toyota Tacoma, have grown into midsize pickups. The Ranger hasn't had a major mechanical update since 1998 and is expected to end production in 2011.

Automotive News reports that Toyota execs acknowledge supplier bids have gone out for the new compact pickup but say the program could be killed if production cost estimates prove to be too high.

Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe also made news at the Detroit auto show when he told journalists a diesel-powered Tundra would be "offered in the near future." But the high price of diesel fuel, high costs necessary to meet federal emissions regulations and slowing Tundra sales are all said to have combined to cancel those plans at least for the time being.

Tundra sales volume through August 2008 was down 15 percent from last year.

In August, Toyota paused Tundra and Sequoia SUV production for three months at its plants in San Antonio and Princeton, Ind., and announced that all Tundra and Sequoia production would be consolidated at the San Antonio plant. Production of Toyota's Highlander SUV will replace the Tundra in Princeton.

Sources say Toyota doesn't think enough diesel-equipped Tundras would be sold to be profitable. A diesel Tundra was expected to use a U.S.-spec version of the twin-turbo D-4D 4.5-liter V-8 that's used overseas in the Toyota Land Cruiser SUV.

A source inside Toyota says if and when the U.S. full-size truck market recovers, plans for the light-duty diesel could be quickly resurrected.

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