Posted by: David Kiley on November 15, 2007
Let me just say before I go into this that Toyota, because of its emphasis on quality and “green” technology, the company has a target on its back when it falls short in either department.
At this week’s LA Auto Show, Toyota took the wraps off its new Sequoia SUV. It is bigger and thirstier than the old model. Huh? Toyota?
The SUV weighs 500 pounds more than the old version, in addition to being larger. Fuel economy for the 4.7 liter V8 engine has slipped to an estimated 13 mpg during city driving and 16 mpg on highway, compared with 15 mpg and 17 mpg on highway for the old model. The behemoth also comes in a 5.7 liter V8 that gets 13 city/19 highway in the 2-wheel model. That noses ahead of Ford’s Expedition, which gets 12/18 and an average of 14. But let’s face it…in a vehicle that big, that’s a wash. The Chevy Tahoe gets 14/20, and the new hybrid version gets 21/22. That’s a big difference on a percentage basis.
What does this prove? That Toyota can make a gas guzzling, overdone, slug of an SUV as well as anyone.
Toyota says that the added utility, space and power in the new model is worth the small dip in fuel economy. I would say, though, that when you have four to five years in between models, a company ought to be able to improve fuel economy from one generation of product to the next. How about at least installing cylinder deactivation that will allow the SUV to cruise at 4 cylinders instead of eight?
It seems to me that if you are a brand like Toyota that has been building a lot of its brand equity around fuel economy, then there should be a premium placed on fuel economy in every vehicle you bring out.
GM has research that shows that a clear majority of consumers believe GM is part of the problem when it comes to climate change and pollution. By contrast, a clear plurality of the same people view Toyota as “part of the solution.”
You can’t argue against what people think…what’s in their minds when they look at cars and trucks. GM has been tagged by the Hummer H2, while Toyota has been tagged with its Prius. Which model seems to be more in keeping with the way the culture and car buying universe is headed?
Toyota has done a great service by pushing the Prius, and its hybrid technology into vehicles like the Camry, Highlander, Lexus RX. But it’s getting time for consumers to get beyond their perceptions and really look at the numbers.
Toyota has been a leader in fuel economy as it is measured by Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards (actually Honda is ahead of Toyota). But that’s because it has been going with its strengths of concentrating on cars and only a few big vehicles like the Land Cruiser. When people wanted trucks and SUVs, they went to GM, Ford and Chrysler, because they made the best ones, and still do for my money.
So, if I can use an analogy…GM and Ford have been in the steak and fried food business, while Toyota has been in the fish and tofu business. But now Toyota wants to get into the steak and onion rings business with a bigger Sequoia and Tundra pickup, not to mention the very thirsty Land Cruiser and 4Runner they have sold for years. GM, meantime, is putting more fish and tofu on its menu. Pretty soon, we won’t be able to tell the difference between the two companies in terms of the menu offerings.
But we ought not to think Toyota’s steak and onion rings are healthier than GM’s and Ford’s because they have more fish on their menu. They aren't.