OJAI - Already a seller of five sport-utility vehicles, Toyota soon will add a sixth. So what will make the 2007 FJ Cruiser different from the RAV4, Highlander, 4Runner, Sequoia and Land Cruiser?
Personality, mostly. Whereas the others come with Toyota's reputation for quality but lack pizazz, the FJ Cruiser exudes attitude. With its bold exterior and white roof, some are calling it the Mini Cooper of SUVs.
It's an off-road-ready, sport-utility aimed squarely at young men who consider tackling a black-diamond-rated trail (tough ones) and having a few beers (cold ones) with their friends as a great way to spend a Sunday.
The new FJ Cruiser, in name and design, pays homage to the original Land Cruiser, a Jeep-like vehicle known as the FJ40. That vehicle climbed to Checkpoint No. 6 on Mount Fuji in 1951 and went into production in 1953.
In the United States, the Land Cruiser has evolved into a luxurious SUV and Toyota's most expensive vehicle.
The new FJ Cruiser, which goes on sale in March with a starting price of about $22,000, is targeted at a young, male buyer who considers off-roading his No. 1 hobby.
"We're going niche,'' said Jim Farley, Toyota's vice president of marketing. Farley knows about specialty marketing: He was one of the key executives to launch Toyota's youth-oriented Scion brand in 2003.
Buyers are expected to be single (70 percent), young (one-third 30 or younger) and primarily men. Women constitute a majority of buyers of the RAV4 and Sequoia, said Ernest Bastien, Toyota's vice president of vehicle operations.
"The FJ is intended to appeal to the extreme off-road enthusiast,'' said Bastien. Indeed, Toyota expects 93 percent of FJ Cruisers to be sold as four-wheel-drive models. The vehicle's short wheelbase and wide track makes it ideal for negotiating trails.
"It is the most distinctive and the most capable 4x4 in the Toyota lineup, and that's quite a statement,'' Farley said.
The FJ's hardware
Toyota says the 4x4 FJ Cruiser has "a 30-degree maximum climb angle and a 41-degree maximum side slope angle; a 27.5-inch maximum water fording depth; a 34-degree approach and a 30-degree departure angle; a 27.4 degree break-over angle and 9.6 inches of ground clearance; skid plates for its engine, transfer case and fuel tank; and an available locking rear differential.''
"It is the hardware the sets the FJ apart,'' said Akio Nishimura, the vehicle's chief engineer. That includes the vehicle's chassis stiffness, its two four-wheel-drive systems and "the radical combination of tight overhangs and substantial ground clearance, approach and departure angles.''
Toyota has tested the FJ Cruiser on the rugged Rubicon Trail in the Sierra, and it says that other rough-and-ready SUVs such as the Jeep Wrangler, Nissan Xterra and Hummer H3 are the vehicle's natural competition.
So far, reaction has been positive. AutoWeek found it "more than capable'' with "the candy-colored FJ climbing over sizable rocks and through steep, rutted dirt trails with little complaint.''
Power comes from a 4.0-liter V-6 engine that's also used in Toyota's Tacoma and Tundra pickups and the 4Runner sport-utility. The new FJ shares some other parts with the 4Runner, but its platform is modified from the Land Cruiser Prado SUV that's sold in Japan. The FJ will be built in the Hamura plant in Tokyo by Hino Motors, a Toyota affiliate.
Buyers can select either a five-speed automatic or a six-speed manual transmission. The FJ Cruiser was designed at Calty, Toyota's Southern California studio. Its broad face, complete with round headlights and wrap-around turn signals, and its flat windshield make the comparisons to a Jeep from a bygone era easy to make.
It has four doors, but the back doors are hidden and open rearward. They swing open 90 degrees for better back-seat access. The vehicle's back has an outside-mounted spare tire and a hatch that swings to the left.
The bold look is accented by a palette of bright paint colors, including yellow, black cherry and light blue, and a white roof.
Inside, the FJ Cruiser is functional, with a three-spoke steering wheel, white-faced gauges and large climate dials. The cloth seats are water-resistant, Toyota says.
To keep the price down, Toyota won't offer the FJ Cruiser with leather seats, navigation or rear-seat entertainment. It will offer an FJammer audio system, complete with headliner speakers and a subwoofer, as part of an upgrade package.
Farley expects the automotive after-market to find the FJ Cruiser irresistible. "This buyer personalizes his vehicle, and does so as soon as they buy it,'' he said. Toyota knows sales of truck-based SUVs, including its own 4Runner and Sequoia models, fell in 2005, as buyers grew concerned about rising gas prices. The FJ Cruiser will get from 16 to 18 mpg in city driving and 19 to 22 mpg on the highway, depending on which drivetrain configuration is selected.
Still, fuel worries shouldn't be strong enough to affect Toyota's plan to sell 40,000 to 50,000 FJ Cruisers a year, said analyst Joe Phillippi.
"I think people are adjusting mentally to higher fuel prices,'' said Phillippi, of AutoTrends Consulting in New Jersey.
He endorsed Toyota's notion of the FJ Cruiser as a "no frills'' vehicle. "I wouldn't call it back to basics, but it's kind of more oriented toward hard-core off-roaders.''
Farley characterizes potential FJ Cruiser buyers as "the true believers and keepers of the flame.'' Like the original FJ from the '50s and '60s, he said, the new FJ Cruiser will be "a halo vehicle for our brand that helps define who we are.''
Toyotas have been popular with Americans as a good-value, good-sense buy. Vehicles such as the FJ Cruiser are something different. "What's new about Toyota is the emotional part,'' he said. `We were always a premium brand when it came to quality, but now we're adding an emotion to that quality, which is a real positive.''
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Contact Matt Nauman at firstname.lastname@example.org or (408) 920-5701.
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