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Toyota Commits to Body-On-Frame SUVs

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On: Thu, Aug 1, 2013 at 12:13PM | By: Chris Weiss

Toyota Commits to Body-On-Frame SUVs

Body-on-frame SUVs are a highly endangered species. People always liked the size and utility of the SUV, but once gas prices started skyrocketing, they didn't really appreciate the poor fuel economy. So automakers moved toward modeling SUVs after cars—including building them atop unitized frames—and the so-called crossover or CUV was born and started replacing the true, truck-based SUV en masse. Some of the last remaining body-on-frame SUVs, including the Ford Explorer, Dodge Durango, and Nissan Pathfinder, have already moved to unitized crossover construction, and in some cases, sizing and packaging. There are very few "real" SUVs left.

Toyota is one of the last remaining stalwarts of body-on-frame construction. According to a February TruckTrend article listing the body-on-frame "survivors of the crossover revolution," Toyota dominates the category with four utility vehicles still built on truck frames: the Land Cruiser, 4Runner, FJ Cruiser, and Sequoia. The other names on the list have only one or two such models. If you count body-on-frame models from Lexus, Toyota rises to six. According to a new report, Toyota has no plans of abandoning the category.

Toyota introduced the 2014 4Runner in the spring, demonstrating its commitment to truck-style underpinnings by keeping its body-on-frame build intact. That was reassuring for the short term, but what happens when the next-generation 4Runner comes along? Or the next-gen Land Cruiser, FJ or Sequoia? Will Toyota keep churning out body-on-frame SUVs in the long term?

While falling short of confirming that all four models will continue into the future on their truck frames, Motoharu Araya, executive chief engineer for Toyota's global truck and SUV lines, told Auto News this week that Toyota is commited to building body-on-frame SUVs. He made clear that there is enough consumer base to justify continuing to build SUV models with truck construction, even if that consumer base is well smaller than that for crossovers.

"There are multiple customers for us," Araya said at a press event. "Some want to drive off-road, some want to tow with their families, and some want to commute. Towing and durability are very difficult with a monocoque vehicle."

Toyota's commitment is a breath of fresh air, but body-on-frame lovers shouldn't get too excited. Last year, Toyota North American President Jim Lentz predicted that such SUVs would be all but extinct by 2025. Being that Araya's job is engineering SUV lines, his word seems to carry more weight than the guy charged with American business, but the divergent statements leave open the question of how long body-on-frame SUVs will actually stick around.


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