WHAT'S NEXT FOR THE TACOMA
Will Toyota build a hybridpowered Tacoma and what will that mean for off-roaders?
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.