STRONACH: Tundra could be a sales winner in Australia

Toyota Australia says the final decision on whether the Tundra ute, effectively a 300 Series LandCruiser with a tub, will be sold in Australia is yet to be made but it seems more of a formality than anything else now.

To make things even more interesting, the Tundra’s petrol-electric-hybrid powertrain slotted into a 300 Series LandCruiser is also only a few years away from Australian showrooms.

Toyota Australia’s roll-out strategy with the Tundra seems to be cautious. Toyota’s concern would be that given the overwhelming preference for Aussie ute buyers has been for diesel for a good while now, going back to currently shunned petrol power, even if the petrol engine in question has a energy-saving electric sub-system attached (that’s the hybrid bit), would be a complete about-face in ute buyer preferences.

Further clouding the market appeal of the Tundra is that it will be notably bigger than the utes Australian buyers are most familiar with (Hilux, Ranger, etc) and it – obviously – won’t be cheap. Think $100K and north.

Currently, Tundra is built only in left-hand drive (LHD), essentially for the USA market. To develop a right-hand drive (RHD) model, Toyota Australia’s plan involves teaming up with the Walkinshaw Automotive Group, arguably the world’s leader in right-hand drive conversion for LHD USA-sourced utes given the work it has already done with the GMSV (Chevrolet) Silverado and Ram utes sold here.

If you’re not familiar with the Walkinshaw name think V8 Supercar Racing, HSV, pumped Amarok V6s and most things fast. These blokes are so clever that they turned the unruly handling – near-dangerous – LDV T60 ute – as it was when it first arrived here in Australia – in to something with decent handling with just one wave of their suspension tuner’s magic wand.

“The Tundra will impress in any demo drive given its sophisticated 3.5-litre twin-turbo petrol V6 is good for around 305kW and 650Nm”

As I write this, the first prototype RHD Tundras will already be on Australian roads undergoing testing. In 12 months time or so there will be 300 RHD Tundras built by Walkinshaw’s second stage manufacturing enterprise that currently turns out RHD Rams and Silverados in impressive numbers. According to Toyota Australia these 300 Tundras – and here’s the interesting bit – will be part of the “final stage of the RHD re-engineering program”.

For a vehicle that’s already fully developed in LHD form and has a RHD conversion done by one of the world’s best RHD-conversion practitioners using many factory parts from the RHD 300, rest assured that you don’t need 300 engineering validation vehicles! These 300 Tundras, or at least a good number of them will be dotted around the country at Toyota dealers to gauge public interest. According to Toyota Australia, they won’t be for sale.

To physically see a Tundra in the metal will be important for buyers as it will impress (and perhaps intimidate) with its size. It’s this public interest ‘validation’ and not further engineering validation that will determine if Toyota goes ahead and offers the Tundra for sale.

To tell the truth it’s probably a done deal, given rumour of Toyota Australia having already secured some 250-plus ‘expression of interest’ deposits for the Tundra. Perhaps the only decision to be made is whether Walkinshaw will keep building Tundras when they go on sale here or whether Toyota will switch to factory-built RHD models from the USA if there’s sufficient demand from Australia and other RHD markets to warrant such a move.

One thing’s for certain however. The Tundra will impress in any demo drive given its sophisticated 3.5-litre twin-turbo petrol V6 is good for around 305kW and 650Nm and that’s before the hybrid system’s 36kW electric motor bumps the power up to a combined total of 326kW and adds a big thrust of torque right from idle in the way that only electric motors can do.

Toyota USA quotes the Tundra’s combined maximum torque output at a very healthy 790Nm! (Note: Hybrid output figures aren’t necessarily the simple addition of the maximum outputs of the combustion engine and the electric motor.)

Not only will the Tundra offer impressive acceleration it will also be quiet, refined, roomy and comfortable in the LandCruiser way of things. In fact it will be so far removed from a four-cylinder diesel Hilux in every measure, that it will feel like it comes from an entirely different car company. If the price is right, it will be a sales winner.


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