The big theme at the Chicago Auto Show echoed that of Detroit: trucks are the ruling class in the American new vehicle market.
Toyota led the way by launching the latest edition of its popular Tacoma compact pick-up truck. The 2001 Tacoma Double Cab is Toyota’s answer to the strong market demand for four-door pick-ups. Don Esmond, Toyota Motor Sales USA division group vp and general manager, said the model is “a key part of a strategy designed to elevate the Toyota brand to a position among the industry leaders in the North American light-truck segment. For Toyota, this will be the ‘Year of the Truck and SUV.’”
The five-passenger Double Cab, which goes on sale in October, will become the flagship of the Tacoma line-up and account for about 40,000 of the 155,000 Tacomas built annually at the Toyota/GM NUMMI plant in Fremont, California. The Double Cab will be offered in two-wheel-drive form with a 150-bhp 2.7-liter four-cylinder or 190-bhp 3.4-liter V6 engine, or a four-wheel-drive version with V6 only. The newcomer features fresh front end styling, which will be adopted by the rest of the Tacoma line for 2001. Compared to the competition, Toyota claims one major advantage: a 61-in. inch cargo bed that is 6.5 in. longer than the Nissan Frontier.
“Toyota, by any comparison, has risen to tier-one status in the North American market. Last year, we sold more passenger cars than Chevrolet, and Camry was the best-selling car in America for the third year in a row,” said Esmond. “January 2000 was our best ever January in total sales, the Toyota division topped the Dodge division in total vehicle sales, only behind Chevrolet and Ford divisions. To continue to grow, trucks are the key. “
Nissan hit back at the Tacoma with a major redesign of its compact Frontier pick-up. For 2001 the Frontier is restyled outside with a new grille and oversized headlights. Inside there is a new instrument cluster and seat fabric. No less than 14 different Frontier models are offered, including the four-door Crew Cab, which competes with the Tacoma Double Cab. As with the Toyota, Nissan now offers an optional supercharger on the V6 equipped model. In the case of the 3.3-liter V6 Frontier, the blower boosts power from 170 bhp to an estimated 210 bhp (Toyota claims 260 bhp for its supercharged models).
A truck of a completely different kind was presented in Chicago by Buick. The 2002 model Rendezvous will, hopes Buick, be seen as a new type of sport utility vehicle. Looking not unlike the successful Lexus RX 300 and Mercedes-Benz M-Class, Rendezvous combines elements of an SUV, luxury sedan and minivan. The seven-seater features a fold-away third row bench and an innovative four-wheel-drive system. Power comes from a 185-bhp, 3.4-liter V6, and an optional supercharger could follow at a later date.
“With our reconfigurable interior, we believe this is the most versatile vehicle in the utility market,” said Buick general manager, Roger Adams. “It’s a great product for today’s active families and a great example of General Motors’ strategy to reach beyond traditional constraints and become the industry’s product innovation leader.”