What Toyota Can Learn From the Hilux

UPDATE: In light of the new Chevy Colorado being released, we thought we would revisit this article about the Hilux.

While many U.S. consumers think that Toyota’s only compact truck is the Tacoma, there is another, the Hilux. Not only is the Hilux more popular than the Tacoma – Toyota sold more than 500,000 Hilux trucks world-wide in 2011 – but the Hilux also offers more configuration options, a wider range of engines and greater capability (depending on the model chosen).

Toyota Hilux diesel in a Tacoma

Here’s what Toyota can take from the Hilux and apply to the Tacoma:

1. A “Developing World” Mentality

In Thailand, you might see a Hilux with a van body being used to ferry tourists to and from the airport. In Panama, you’ll see a Hilux navigating an almost impassible jungle road. In Libya, you might see a Hilux with a rocket launcher mounted in the bed (image from FastMotoring.com).

Hilux rocket launcher

A couple Hilux rolling around with rocket launchers…road rage isn’t a problem in Libya, at least not for these truck owners.

The point? These are all the Hilux, but they’re all being used pretty differently. Toyota has positioned the Tacoma as a the “fun” truck and the Tundra as the “work” truck, but the fact is the Tacoma can do quite a bit of work. Why not position the Tacoma as a tough yet fun work vehicle, hauling bails of hay, bouncing around the construction site, or towing the family boat? Granted this might cannibalize Tundra sales, but so what? Toyota wins either way.

2. A Turbo-Diesel Engine

For quite a while, U.S. truck enthusiasts have been clamoring for a “baby” turbo-diesel to hit the market. Truck owners understand better than most that diesel engines are perfect for trucks – they’re more powerful and more fuel-efficient doing the things that trucks are supposed to. I.e., hauling, towing, and running off road. Automakers, on the other hand, have been scared. Toyota has promised to bring a diesel Tundra to the market, then – citing rising diesel prices and a supposed lack of demand (their perception) – Toyota backed off these plans.

But a diesel Tacoma with a powerful little 3.0L diesel engine, perhaps getting 25-30 mpg in the city? That seems like a fun, capable truck U.S. truck buyers would love. Considering that this is the exact same engine offered in the Hilux, it’s hard to comprehend why the Tacoma doesn’t have this option.

Frankly, Toyota seems to be more interested in building hybrids then selling a Tacoma with a diesel engine they already have. However, a recent AutoWeek story pointed out “Diesel sales have risen a whopping 35 percent in the first quarter of 2012, according to data compiled by www.hyrbidcars.com and Baum and Associates.” Maybe it is time for Toyota to reconsider this notion.

3. A Tougher Chassis

The Hilux is known for being one indestructible pickup. It is so well-known for this that the BBC show Top Gear filmed a series of shows where they tried to destroy it. In the end, the stocky suspension and beefy chassis of the Hilux was too much for all the Top Gear stunts and the Hilux kept on trucking.

Why is the Hilux so much stockier than the Tacoma? Easy – in most parts of the world, there’s no such thing as a “full-size” truck. The Hilux is the full-size truck.

4. More Configurations

Hilux cab chassis side dump

A Hilux with a side dump body – why can’t the Tacoma be offered in a cab and chassis?

The Toyota Tacoma and the Hilux both offer the single, extra and double cab options in 2WD or 4WD. However, the Hilux is also available with:

  • a cab and chassis, which means a Hilux can be outfitted to wear a van body, a flat bed, even a side-dump
  • both automatic and manual transmissions on every engine
  • two different diesels and three different gas motors, depending on market
  • 2500lbs+ of payload capacity (depending on configuration)
  • a factory-spec sport bar (seriously, why doesn’t Toyota offer this for the Tacoma?)
Hilux sport bar accessory

This sport bar is an official Toyota Hilux accessory in Australia – doesn’t anyone at Toyota think this will work on the Tacoma?

What do you think – what does the Hilux have that you wish Toyota would add to the Tacoma?

  • babydollw

    I can’t wait to see the turbo Diesel Hilux. It may be the retirement gift for my husband I have been looking for. I really enjoy the clean lines and quite drive sound.

  • 2011 Tacoma

    All that would be nice…..hell, I’d be happy if the driveline didn’t shake like a dog shitting razor blades on a stock truck.

  • zeus01

    I’ve been a fan of the Toyota brand since the old box type corolla’s. What I think the Tacoma should learn form the Hilux would be visibility. For some reason more people own the Hilux and you see them more often on the road and people tend to remember the Hilux name more often. Visibility would be the key, participating in Autoshows would help and advertising more.

  • Robert

    With regard to point one, Toyota does not win either way. This issue with cannibalizing Tundra sales is even more important given the popularity of the 1794 package.

    When you couple its popularity with the markup on the 1794 and platinum editions, Toyota stands to lose a boatload of money without a true luxury package, better known as “Cowboy Cadillac” package for the Tacoma.

    Ford has been the only manufacturer to understand luxury packed cars from a lower tier are totally acceptable as long as you start at the very bottom.

    Some people may just want a subcompact with all the bells and whistles. For those people there’s the Fiesta. If they don’t want all of the extras, but a bigger car, they can get a Focus in the same price point. The overlap of prices from one tier to the next is EXACTLY what Toyota needs to “win either way.” There’s a group of people who just don’t want a full size pickup but would be willing to spend 40-45k on a Tacoma platinum package. They get their ridiculously outrageous markup AND no one has to buy a Tundra…or F150, Silverado, Ram. That’s how this game is won. Look at Ford’s posted profits under Mulally.

    It may sound like I’m ripping Toyota, but I’m not. You know who else could learn this? Honda! If they offered their Fit with premium touches and their incoming 1.5 Earth Dreams turbo charged engine supposed to bet 15% better MPG than their current 1.8 with 45% better torque, Americans might start buying the Fit. Give it leather and a sunroof, and MINI, along with cars like the Corolla won’t know what the F hit them.

    There’s profits to be made in premium touches for smaller cars, but the Japanese automakers have yet to discover that here in the states. Given the absolute coo coo for coco puffs sites like UK’s Autobuyer have for the refinement in a Volkswagen Golf over it’s competitors, and something tells me this philosophy applies to the Euros as well.

    Worried if the Chinese will play ball? Two words…Buick popularity.

    • Tim Esterdahl


      You are absolutely correct that Toyota has largely failed to recognize the importance of luxury packages. The truth is that Toyota expected the “take rate” (buying rate) of the 1794 package to be about 10 percent of their total sales. Sweers just mentioned in an interview that it is more like 25 percent. That is a HUGE difference!

      While automakers are very conscious of price point with regards to their vehicles, I would love for someone to offer a luxury mid-size truck. It would be very interesting to see how consumers respond to such a product. The truth is that midsize truck owners love the size and hate having to give up features/comfort that the full-size truck offers. Give them those features and comfort in a mid-size and let’s see what happens.

      Thanks for the comment!

  • Robert

    Any thoughts on what the Lexus NX 2.0 turbo could bean fir the Tacoma?

    The ford 2.0 gives the escape, THE ESCAPE, 3500# when properly equipped. There’s no reason the Toyota 2.0 can’t do the same thing while improving MPG and making ng the 4 banger taco more fun to drive.

    It goes without saying, though I will anyway, I’d trust a Toyota TC over one of Ford’s any day.

    Make the 2.0 standard? And a TD the upgrade for towing? Toyota could make the V6 obsolete for small pickups.

    • Tim Esterdahl

      Funny you should ask. I am currently working on that story. In short, Toyota is looking hard at turbos and it isn’t out of the realm of thinking that the Tacoma could get one. In fact, it makes a LOT of sense.