With the release of the Wrangler JL still hot off the press, Toyota is acting eager to get a vehicle back into the 4x4 enthusiast market, especially since it's 4x4 crowd pleaser the FJ Cruiser hasn't been revived yet. Speaking to Motor Trend at the 2018 Detroit Auto Show, Toyota Motor North America CEO Jim Lentz said, “There’s room for an authentic small off-road SUV. Everyone moved out of that segment because of truck CAFE ratings. But we’re getting a lot of requests from folks who want another FJ or some variant.”
Jim Lentz is known to speak carefully about future Toyota endeavors, so his position on the matter can confidently be aligned with Toyota’s agenda. Last year we saw a few adventure-based off-road concepts from Toyota that resembled potential RAV4 variants, but Lentz says those concepts are along the lines of a new Toyota 4x4 to appear along with the RAV4.
“There is room on the lower end, in terms of price or authenticity, for an off-road, frame-based SUV,” Lentz said. “This would be for people going outdoors, but truly going off-road. This would not be all-wheel drive for safety, this would be four-wheel drive with ground clearance.”
Despite the fact that Toyota’s new all-wheel-drive car–based platforms feature cargo and towing capacity that nearly matches four-wheel-drive–framed platforms, “The difference is in wheel travel, and you can only do that with frame-based,” Lentz said. “This could be FJ sized, but for an enthusiast, it’s gotta be something with a small wheelbase to be more maneuverable when in the rocks. There’s market demand for frame-based SUVs, but we have to crunch all the CAFE numbers to see if there’s room for them; 4Runner continues to do well, but the softest segment is for big SUVs.”
While Toyota sold over 128,296 4Runners in 2017, Toyota Motor North America Executive Vice President of Sales Bob Carter thinks they could have sold more, and Toyota’s Indiana manufacturing plant that builds Highlanders is seeing an increase in capacity. Highlanders also have been selling well, with 215,775 units hitting the road in 2017. “When you look at Highlander and 4Runner, they are two SUVs that are nearly the identical size, yet have two completely different customers,” Carter said in regard to Toyota adding more SUVs of similar sizes to its line.