Toyota Can’t Make the Case for a V6 Tundra Amid New Competition

2014_Toyota_Tundra_SR5_004

Source: Toyota

There’s a very specific factor that sets the Toyota (NYSE:TM) Tacoma apart from the other large pickups: for the 2015 model year, buyers won’t have the option of purchasing a Tundra with a V6 engine. It’s V8s all the way — whether it’s in the 4.6 liter or 5.7 liter flavors. Years ago, that may not have been a surprise, but a concise study of the current full-size pickup market by Automotive News’ Richard Truett indicates that Toyota’s decision to phase out the sixer for next year is completely counterintuitive to current industry practice.

In fact, as automakers have been able to make V6 engines as strong as older V8s — but use a fraction of the fuel — buyers have been far more welcoming toward the smaller units. Ford’s 3.5 EcoBoost V6, for example, produces 365 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque, while returning about 20 miles per gallon combined. Between that option and Ford’s entry-level 3.7 liter V6, F-150 buyers are snatching up six-cylinders to the tune of more than half of Ford’s F-150 sales.

It’s a similar story at Ram, which offers a 3.6 liter Pentastar V6 gasoline option, or the so-far industry exclusive 3.0 liter EcoDiesel V6, which produces 240 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of twist. About a quarter of all Rams sold are equipped with one of these two options. General Motors, too, has found great success of late with its V6s option, as the smaller cylinder counts have grown “from the low single digits to nearly 20 percent” of the company’s pickup float, Truett says. For Ram, V6s made up only 10 percent of Ram sales.

On paper, the reason Toyota has shed its 4.0 liter V6 is fairly apparent — it’s simply not competitive with the far newer units in production today. It only achieves 16 miles per gallon in the city and 20 on the highway, for 17 miles per gallon combined — that’s not only poor for a V6, that’s getting to the lower end of where today’s V8s are operating. Among all the full-size V6 pickups, the Tundra fell in dead last as far as fuel efficiency goes.

2014_Tundra_TN_Exterior_04

Source: Toyota

Toyota’s 4.0 liter V6 is old, and has been largely neglected over the last few years. It was less powerful, less efficient, had a smaller tow rating; in fact, the only figure where it was really competitive was in torque, at 278 pound-feet. Toyota’s V8s are aging as well, especially next to the new V6 units that are becoming so popular, and with a diesel engine now in the mix also. But Toyota still has something that few automakers — save for GM — have: a small truck option that buyers can leap to if they don’t want a big V8-powered full-size, the Tacoma.

Nonetheless, the Tundra have been left to age while other full-size pickups make mincemeat of the Tundra and the Nissan Titan (another victim of serious neglect). A 2014 redesign helped give the Tundra a more brutish and bruiser attitude, but underneath it was the same truck. But as the industry focuses on downsizing engines, Toyota has taken out its only V6 option for the Tundra — and for good reason.

Truett reports that the engine accounted for only about 2 percent of Tundra sales. From the business side, the V6 wasn’t exactly making a dent in Toyota’s fleet fuel economy numbers, and because it has the high-volume Prius, losing the V6 won’t disrupt Toyota’s standing with the CAFE regulations that determine the average mileage figures across a company’s entire fleet of vehicles.

“It comes down to customer demand,” Toyota spokesperson Mike Kroll told Automotive News. “The two V8 strategy accounts for about 98 percent of the mix. It makes sense to focus our factories on what customers want most,” he said, adding that the real-world fuel economy of Toyota’s V8 trucks compares well with V6 offerings from Detroit’s automakers, the site said.

2014_Toyota_Tundra_1794_007

The issue with Kroll’s statement is that there is a demand for strong, efficient V6s — just not Toyota’s dated unit. The V6 is working wonders the other larger automakers, but the difference is that Ford and Ram don’t offer a midsize truck and GM is just now shipping the new Colorado and Canyon out to dealers. It’s very possible that the Tacoma is cannibalizing the lower-end Tundra sales, and so operating in the higher, premium areas of the full-size market is the best strategy for the Tundra.

What’s unfortunate is that overseas, Toyota’s truck culture — spearheaded by the Hilux — is alive and well, thanks to Toyota’s implementation of smaller displacement diesel engines. Stateside, Toyota’s competition in the segment seems more like an effort to just have a presence among the Detroit 3; the new Tundra isn’t the best truck Toyota is capable of, and it seems to know that — but is content enough with where it is.

In order to be far more competitive, Toyota will have to establish a new, better V6 at some point — if not for use in the Tundra, then for use in the Tacoma, which relies on the same 4.0 liter V6 on the top end and a rather anemic 2.7 liter four-cylinder that produces 180 pound-feet of torque (for reference, a Volkswagen Golf TDI produces over 230). Toyota has been notably reluctant to bring a diesel engine to the states, instead counting on hybrid and hydrogen power for its cars. But for its trucks, a diesel engine could go a long way, and diesel powertrain growth in the U.S. has soared in recent years.

Bring us a Tundra with a diesel V6, or at the very least offer a modified tune of the 3.5 liter V6 found in other Toyota vehicles. A diesel Tacoma would do exceptionally well also, and Toyota’s hesitance to offer one now risks handing that market over to GM when it introduces its 2.8 liter diesel in the 2016 Colorado and Canyon trucks.

More From Autos Cheat Sheet: