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Quality Concerns Rock the New Toyota Tundra

It’s not easy making a full size truck

If Toyota thought the launch of the all new Tundra was going to be a slam dunk, it didn't take long for the pickup to earn some fouls.

First, in March, the Tundra unexpectedly fell one star short of a perfect five-star safety rating in head-on collisions testing by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), while the Chevrolet Silverado, Dodge Ram, Ford F-150, and GMC Sierra all scored five stars. However, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) later awarded the Tundra with its 2008 ‘Top Safety Pick’ award – the first time a pickup has been recognized by the IIHS for this honor.

Next, in May, came word of snapping camshafts in at least 20 of the Tundra’s new 5.7-liter i-Force V8 engines, due to a manufacturing defect at the supplier. Toyota replaced the entire engine in Tundra’s with camshaft problems.

Drivetrain glitches continued throughout the remainder of 2007.

In October Toyota confirmed reports of vibrations in Tundras with 6-speed transmissions as the transmission changed gears accelerating and decelerating. Toyota traced the ‘rumble strip’ problem to an issue with the torque converter. And in December a recall was issued for 15,600 Tundras, to fix an improperly heat-treated joint in the rear propeller shaft on 4WD trucks.

Finally, owners self-reported and posted pictures online of cracking tailgates that appeared after loading cargo into the back of the Tundra. Toyota agreed to replace the tailgate of any new Tundra damaged during ‘normal’ use.

Even before the last of the Tundra’s quality challenges was reported, Toyota’s head of global manufacturing, Takeshi Uchiyamada, candidly admitted to Automotive News that the problems had caused “shame” within the company. Uchiyamada-san said the cause was Toyota’s rapid product expansion and new manufacturing plants.

Hopefully 2008 will be a better year for Tundra quality.

Truck Sales Hit a Wall While Fuel Prices Hit the Ceiling

Economic pressures shrink trucks sales and profits

November 2007 wasn't a kind month for pickup truck sales, and neither was most of 2007 for that matter.

Sales in all segments shrank 11.2% from a year earlier, and overall year-to-date sales fell 5.5%. Pickup sales slowed all year as fuel prices rose to near-record levels and residential housing starts and contracting jobs fell off a cliff. Non-core truck buyers, not needing a pickup for work or hauling toys, started shifting to smaller vehicles.

Rebates as high as $6,500 were placed on hoods as pickups piled up on lots and average dealer turnover rates ballooned well past 100-days for most brands. 60-days average turnover is considered to be healthy.

The new Toyota Tundra was the only top ten selling pickup to enter positive sales territory for the year. Tundra sales were up 57.7% from 2006.

Continued declines in pickup sales could cause big financial problems for Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors because pickup trucks generate almost all of their profits.

The Detroit Three plan to cut production of full-size pickups for part or all of January 2008, in an effort to rebalance inventory levels with consumer demand.

Jeff Schuster, executive director of global forecasting for J.D. Power and Associates, says he doesn't see demand for pickup trucks turning upward until the fourth quarter of 2008.

Diesel Pickups Come Clean

New federal emissions limits are making oil burners as clean as gassers

Pickup truck drivers have long known the performance benefits of diesel engines. They offer high torque at low RPMs, to make towing big loads easy, while returning superior fuel economy over comparable gasoline engines. But they've also been known for dirty, smelly exhaust.

That changed forever on January 1, 2007, when all consumer diesel engines built and sold in the U.S. had to meet tough new ‘Tier 2 Bin 5’ emissions regulations. Tier 2 Bin 5 cut soot by ten-times and nitrogen oxide (NOX) levels by two-fold, to .01-grams/mile of particulates and .07-grams/mile of NOX.

The new diesel emissions equipment includes diesel particulate filters (DPF) and NOX scrubbers that increased the cost of some 2007 model year diesel-powered pickups by $1,500 over 2006 model year trucks.

Oil companies played a role too, refining new ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD) fuel that reduced sulfur content from 500-parts-per-million to 15-ppm, so the diesel fuel wouldn't gum up the new emissions equipment.

Tougher NOX regulations for 2010 are expected to boost engine and maintenance costs even higher. But with fuel prices steadily climbing and diesel engines about to trickle down from heavy to light duty pickups, clean diesels are likely to grow in sales numbers as truck owners seek out the best combination of mileage and power in all truck segments.

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