WHAT'S NEXT FOR THE TACOMA

Will Toy­ota build a hy­brid­pow­ered Tacoma and what will that mean for off-road­ers?

4WDrive - - Contents -

When it comes to in­te­grat­ing elec­tri­cal power into an in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gine, one of the fore­run­ners in the auto in­dus­try is Toy­ota. The com­pany has been on an “eco-charge” for more than two decades and has a whole fam­ily of hy­brid ve­hi­cles, rang­ing from the pop­u­lar Prius se­ries to the High­lander and RAV4 SUVs. Up un­til this point, it seems Toy­ota has “hy­bridized” many of its pop­u­lar ve­hi­cles the world over with the ex­cep­tion of its pickup line.

Toy­ota has (quite vis­i­bly) kept the hy­brid pow­er­trains well away from their trucks, which is a sur­prise con­sid­er­ing the Tacoma and Tun­dra’s pre­vi­ous weak links were poor fuel ef­fi­ciency. As of late, the ru­mour of Toy­ota cre­at­ing a hy­brid trim line is cir­cu­lat­ing in the truck in­dus­try. This is noth­ing new as ru­mours of a diesel Tacoma min­gled about in the mid-1990s. While hy­bridiz­ing mod­els in its truck line seems to come up ev­ery four or five years, the lat­est round of hy­brid Tacoma talk was sparked at The State Fair of Texas when a jour­nal­ist from Mo­tor Trend specif­i­cally asked Ed Laukes, Group Vice Pres­i­dent - Toy­ota Di­vi­sion Mar­ket­ing, if a hy­brid truck might be a pos­si­bil­ity.

“There’s ab­so­lutely no rea­son we couldn’t have a hy­brid truck,” said Laukes. “All those op­tions we’re ex­plor­ing. When you’re try­ing to raise [cor­po­rate av­er­age fuel econ­omy] lim­its for the en­tire brand, there’s no op­tion that isn’t on the ta­ble.”

Words like that would tend to make one think a hy­brid Tacoma is quite likely go­ing to make its way into show­rooms sooner than later. It re­ally wouldn’t be hard for Toy­ota to do ei­ther. It has been build­ing hy­brids for more than two decades (the first gen­er­a­tion was the Prius that rolled off the line in 1997) and are well versed to fit­ting the sys­tems into their line­ups. They also al­ready have a 3.5L V-6 hy­brid pow­er­train ready to go in the High­lander Hy­brid, which means it would be a rather sim­ple plug and play in­stal­la­tion.

So, why hasn’t Toy­ota elec­tri­fied the Tacoma or the Tun­dra for that mat­ter? Ru­mours of a Hy­brid Tacoma have been cir­cling for more than a decade and Toy­ota hasn’t even built a con­cept or pro­to­type. While the ev­i­dence seems to point to the com­pany fi­nally pulling the trig­ger on a hy­brid, I highly doubt that will be the case.

For one, fuel ef­fi­ciency is well down on the list of pri­or­i­ties for truck buy­ers. Sec­ond, the U.S. Fed­eral Govern­ment is re­ex­am­in­ing the cur­rent EPA fuel ef­fi­ciency laws that aim to have man­u­fac­tur­ers meet a 50 mpg (4.7L/100km) fleet av­er­age by 2025. It’s al­most cer­tain that th­ese num­bers will likely hold at the cur­rent req­ui­sites, if not drop fur­ther. Since the Cana­dian govern­ment usu­ally “copies and pastes” the EPA reg­u­la­tions into our own law, there re­ally is no need for Toy­ota to for­feit the de­vel­op­ment in­vest­ment by fit­ting the Tacoma frame with a hy­brid sys­tem. How­ever, let’s say Toy­ota does cre­ate a hy­brid Tacoma. What does that mean for you, me and off-road en­thu­si­asts that like to travel far from the smooth con­fines of ur­ban tar­mac?

For wheel­ers, a hy­brid Tacoma is a bit of a non-starter if you con­sider the pros and cons. On the pos­i­tive side, a hy­brid Tacoma will in­crease fuel ef­fi­ciency in ur­ban and off-road driv­ing en­vi­ron­ments, in­creas­ing range. It will also in­crease torque to ease the ve­hi­cle over rough ter­rain. On the other hand, there is a rather lengthy list of neg­a­tives. The added weight does not aid a ve­hi­cle we al­ready want to bolt many new things onto. The in­creased com­plex­ity in the drive sys­tem is not ideal for trail­side fixes and a hy­brid Tacoma will man­date an au­to­matic trans­mis­sion, likely a CVT. Fur­ther, in­te­rior cargo space may be sac­ri­ficed to house bat­ter­ies and the brake pedal feel will be com­pro­mised. Plus, the cost of such tech will in­evitably in­crease the pur­chase price by sev­eral thou­sand dol­lars.

That be­ing said, while I don’t think a hy­brid 4WD will aid an off-roader, a hy­dro­gen or highly ef­fi­cient EV 4WD could of­fer bet­ter off-road­ing than the in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gine, and Toy­ota just hap­pens to be work­ing on both of th­ese tech­nolo­gies.

Gaz­ing into my crys­tal ball, I would say Toy­ota will forego the hy­brid Taco at this point and wait for the EV or hy­dro­gen tech­nol­ogy to im­prove to the point where you and I can feed our ve­hi­cles with en­ergy as eas­ily as gas, and drive 500 km be­fore need­ing re­plen­ish­ment. Don’t be fooled, that day is not too far off and Toy­ota has both feet in the wa­ter. The Tun­dra how­ever, is an­other ket­tle of fish.

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