Toyota unveils new Tacoma midsize pickup

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

Toyota Motor Corp. on Monday unveiled an all-new 2016 Tacoma midsize pickup in an attempt to stay ahead in a suddenly crowded mid-size truck market.

The Japanese automaker — which had 70 percent of all small-truck sales in 2013 — has dominated the segment since U.S. automakers exited the market following the recession. However, General Motors Co. re-entered the segment last year with by resurrecting its Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon midsize pickups.

Bill Fay, group vice president and general manager Toyota division,  introduces the Toyota Tacoma TRD Monday at the North American International Auto Show.

Now Toyota is rebuilding its midsize truck with a new powertrain and enhanced suspension tuning.

"It's going to be everything the current one is, but we're going to raise the bar and make it better," Bill Fay, group vice president and general manager, Toyota Division, told reporters.

He said the Japanese automaker isn't worried about the increased competition in the mid-size segment.

"I don't think we're looking over our shoulder," Fay said. "We've dominated that segment for a long time and we have a loyal customer base. I think by having some more entries in that segment we'll create more interest, and that's a win-win. The segment will expand and our sales will expand."

As part of the unveiling, Toyota also unveiled an off-road Tacoma TRD.

The Tacoma will be powered by a 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine and a segment-first 3.5-liter Atkinson-cycle V-6 equipped with Toyota's D-4S technology, featuring both direct and port fuel injection.

Both engines will be paired to a new six-speed automatic transmission with electronic shift delivering quick and easy shifting. The V-6 can also be mated to a six-speed manual.

It will be available in both 4x2 and 4x4 configurations.

"The Tacoma redesign comes at the perfect time for Toyota, as fresh, new product is needed to defend its mid-size turf," said Akshay Anand, analyst at Kelley Blue Book's KBB.com.

The front end features a hex grille and taller, more muscular hood. For the first time, the pickup has an available tri-fold hard tonneau cover to secure gear.

Analysts have noted the place and timing of the reveal is interesting in that it's happening right in GM's backyard a year after the Detroit automaker unveiled the Colorado during the 2013 Los Angeles Auto Show.

"Toyota owns the segment," said Dave Sullivan, manager of product analysis at AutoPacific Inc. "It's a pretty bold move to come down the street from GM headquarters and show off your new truck."

Toyota sold just over 155,000 Tacomas in 2014 — down 2.8 percent from the previous year. Fay said he expects Tacoma sales will rise in 2015 thanks to the new truck, which goes on sale in the fall.

Executives say the decline is largely due to supply constraints, which the company is rectifying by adding a third shift to its Tacoma plant in Mexico.

Sullivan doesn't think GM's new midsize offerings will hurt Tacoma sales.

"The quality has always been there, and people aren't willing to walk away from that just yet," he said.

mmartinez@detroitnews.com

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Staff writer Mike Wayland contributed.