What's Tundra's Next Powertrain Move?


At a time when half-ton pickup trucks have some of the most sophisticated and advanced technologies, some are saying it is time for Toyota to make a bold move with the Tundra and offer an eight-speed transmission. Toyota recently announced it will replace the six-speed transmission with an eight-speed transmission in the 2016 Toyota Land Cruiser and Lexus LX 570 SUVs, so why not roll it out in the high-volume Tundra?

While consumers might like that idea, it seems unlikely that Toyota will use the same transmission on its full-size pickup. Although all three vehicles use similar 32-valve 5.7-liter V-8s, the premium SUVs have much higher prices so they can easily absorb the switch to the more advanced transmission. There's no question Toyota has to do something to address the Tundra's poor fuel-economy ratings, but unless it puts the pickup on an 800-pound diet, a few extra gears are not likely to deliver significantly improved EPA results.

Maybe clues to what technologies might be in store for the new Tundra can be found in the Toyota Sequoia full-size SUV. The Sequoia uses a modified version of the fully boxed Tundra frame and is currently being produced in Princeton, Ind., the spiritual home of the previous-generation Tundra. The Sequoia is not slated to see technological advances anytime soon, comfortably selling about 1/10th the number of Tundras each month (Land Cruisers and LX 570s sell about 1/10th the number of Sequoias each month).

Making some kind of significant investment in better fuel economy technology or more advanced gas or diesel V-8s would be a good move, but also quite expensive. Then there's the issue of production availability. Any type of powertrain upgrade for the Tundra will need to produced in the tens of thousands every month. Toyota doesn't produce that many Land Cruisers and LX 570s in a year. And if the recent debut of the all-new 2016 Toyota Tacoma has shown us anything, Toyota will always carefully calculate where it spends its powertrain-upgrade money.

The short answer for Tundra is probably some kind of prepackaged new engine (likely a turbo-diesel) or a modified version of the hybrid technology already seen on several Lexus and Prius models. But don't expect that anytime soon.

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