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Take a Look at the New Toyota Tundra

CHICAGO ( TheStreet) - Hoping to establish a bigger presence in the expanding U.S. pickup truck market, Toyota (TM - Get Report) unveiled the 2014 Tundra Thursday at the Chicago Auto Show.

"Tundra continues to deliver on what full-size truck customers need and now gives them more of what they want as well," said Bill Fay, Toyota Division general manager, in introductory remarks, during which he emphasized that the truck will be produced in Toyota's San Antonio, Texas, facility.

"The redesigned Tundra is a continuation of Toyota's initiative to locally develop more engaging vehicles specifically for the North America market, which began with the all-new Avalon," Fay said. "From its inception back in 1999, the Tundra was designed and built for American truck buyers and all Tundra's are built at our San Antonio plant. "

The new truck, which will come in five models, faces tough competition.

In the past two months, GM (GM - Get Report) unveiled a new Chevrolet Silverado, Chrysler's Ram was introduced and then voted the 2013 truck of the year, and Ford (F - Get Report) unveiled the 2014 Atlas concept pickup at the Detroit Auto Show. The Tundra, last updated in 2007, needs to keep up.

In 2012, Ford's F-150 pickup truck was the best-selling U.S. vehicle, as 645,316 were sold. GM's Chevrolet Silverado ranked third, with sales of 418,312 units, while Chrysler's Ram sold 293,363. Tundra sold 101,621 units.

"The truck market has always been a bit of a tough go for Toyota," said Rebecca Lindland, research director at IHS Automotive. "The pickup truck market is very domestically oriented."

Lindland cited Ram's compelling Super Bowl commercial, which connected the Ram 1500 to America's agricultural heritage as an indication of the segment's strong domestic identification.

Nevertheless, the segment has a strong allure as it is boosted by a recovering economy, particularly in the housing construction sector, which is a bastion of pickup truck use.

Bill Visnic, senior editor, said the pickup truck market has two segments, the hard-core buyer and casual buyers. The casual buyer segment has been shrinking since the recession, a result of a slower economy and higher gas prices. One sign of the segment's shrinkage was Ford's decision to stop manufacturing the smaller Ranger pickup.

"The casual buyer was a lifestyle buyer, an 'air hauler,' who bought a pickup truck not because of the need to haul any particular load, but rather because "pickup trucks were cool, a flight of fancy and fun to buy," Visnic said. Toyota's pickup truck segment presence has largely been in the casual buyer market.

Now Toyota faces the tough job of appealing to the hard-core pickup buyer. "It takes a lot to move that buyer off his preferred brand," Visnic said. "The domestics have had a stranglehold on this market forever. It's not something you reverse overnight.

"But the Tundra is a legitimate competitor now," Visnic said. The new Tundra will need "more power and more messaging about strength and durability, because the perception was always that Toyota was probably a little softer than the competition.

"Toyota has to try to reinforce its work truck credentials," he said.

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Ted Reed

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