As the redesigned 2022 Toyota Tundra is about to hit showrooms, TheDetroitBureau.com sat down with Kevin Hunter, president of CALTY, about the design of the new pickup truck. The 2022 Tundra faces a very competitive market segment, one where Toyota lags far behind Chevrolet, Ram and Ford.
Here’s what Hunter had to say. Note: the length of the interview has been changed.
The Detroit office: So far, there has been a lot of shyness in the design of your full-size trucks. Why is that?
Kevin Hunter: I think with the big, minor change we made, I don’t know, maybe 10 years ago we made the decision that we needed to be a lot more chiseled in our design, more structured and less organic and soft. So we started in this direction and we had a very good reaction because we are also designing this truck at CALTY; it was our project. And while we haven’t changed much in terms of hardware, with this big, minor change, sales have increased purely based on style. So we thought that we were on the right track and that we needed to increase our capacity even more, because our customers want to take bigger, heavier things, to carry heavier things. So in order to do that, we need a truck that really reflects that kind of performance. No one wants a wimpy truck on the boat launch or hauling their RV to a camp. You want to look tough and strong and capable and that’s part of the attitude to drive a truck.
TDB: As you approached the design of the new Toyota Tundra, what was your overall thinking? How did you approach it differently? What did you do the same?
KH: What has not changed is our direction. Our customers love to have fun with their trucks and we see it more as a lifestyle truck, not just for work and transport. So it was really a great base for us. Beyond that it has to be a new generation truck and a big step forward as we started with a new platform. Everything is new on this truck, so we knew we had to take a big step forward in boldness and strength. The size isn’t much bigger, but the mass, the tread, the three-dimensional aspect of this truck is way beyond where the current truck is.
So when we designed the platform, we looked at things like the offset we can get from the body line to the belt line, as that is going to determine a lot of the force we can get for create this bold and athletic body design. . So we worked a lot with engineering to make sure we had those kind of offsets in place to get big wheel flares. The cowl position is another area we’ve looked at and moved to the rear, so we now have a longer bonnet than the current generation Tundra. And I think that just creates a powerful figure and also sets up the hood to look really strong too.
TDB: Being more of a recreational truck than a work truck, how does that affect the design?
KH: We like to think he looks more dynamic and active. Some of our competitors tend to have a flatter or extruded appearance. We wanted Tundra to be active and fluid in three dimensions, 360 degrees around the truck. So it was a big step for us.
TDB: How hard is it not to see the current form language in the full-size pickup truck market? It must be incredibly difficult to go in one direction.
KH: That’s a really good question and we started talking about it very early on, as the overall full-size market is a bit conservative. You don’t want to have to explain why your truck looks like a spaceship, and we believe there are some fundamentals important to be competitive in the core truck segment. We identify them as genuine, powerful and capable. In general terms, if the mass is not correct, then we cannot even be in that segment. So I think there are entry points for this segment that we have to meet stylistically, and proportionally, which we do and I admit all trucks have. This is the segment. But from there, we break with our brand identity. What is the identity of Toyota? What is our heritage? What is our design language that we pursue? And this is where we differentiate ourselves from our competitors.
TDB: Since this platform replaces three old platforms, has this hampered the design considering its use in international markets?
KH: There were some challenges initially, because it’s part of the TNGA system. So we had to think carefully about what kind of sitting positions we could get. We wanted the seats, hips, and eyes to be as high as possible, and that was a bit of a challenge. We did many iterations of different packages with the engineering and the platform team to try to come up with a good solution that would put the hood in the right position, give us the correct frontal mass that would work well in the normal size truck segment.
TDB: How to come you didn’t do any kind of tailgate function?
KH: This is mainly because our customers use our trucks to transport simple things like bikes and ATVs. We are aiming for a leisure market, not a labor market. So we just looked at the value we thought it would bring to our customers and decided that the way they used it, as a simple tailgate, would work well for them.
TDB: It’s interesting that you paid attention to the aerodynamics of the truck’s rear bumper caps. Few automakers do this on pickup trucks, a vehicle with little aerodynamics.
KH: Well, that was an area we targeted early on in our design, and I actually thought it was going to be a monumental challenge to overcome due to the way the bumpers are on full-size trucks, the way they are attached to the frame and everything that goes with the sensors there. But surprisingly, it was one of the least design headaches we’ve come across. We haven’t heard back from the engineers to get it.
TDB: Interlocking headlights are a pretty complicated piece of design.
KH: If you don’t handle the corners with the right radius or bevels they can get a bit brittle, and again we wanted the light unit to look impressive and look well locked into the body, the same as the tail light. In the tailgate, we wanted them to look like they just plugged in from the rear and are securely locked into the rear quarter panels.
TDB: Interestingly, inside, the center of the dashboard mimics the shape of the grille.
KH: Well, the grille has our brand identity, that kind of hexagonal grille. And we took some of those bevelled corners and put some of that language in there. So that kind of beveled or hexagonal language that we wanted to carry on the interior, in the air vents and the way they are nested in the dashboard. We wanted to pull this nested language into this new tundra because nested things seem strong. They look unbreakable. We wanted to carry that same nested thought indoors with double angles and hexagonal shapes.
TDB: Considering the sturdiness of the design, it’s surprising how chic the Model 1790 is.
KH: What we wanted to do with the premium grades is to create a high quality overall finish first. We knew that some of these parts were going to be carried over to the base ranks. Sometimes we start designing the base level first. We have set our expectations a little low as to where we need to end up. So we wanted to start high, to make the structure, the architecture look high quality, top quality, thinking that when it goes down to the base level, there is a fundamental form language with proportions. Even though you are going to have less stitches, less material wrapped, it still feels high quality. And I think it worked.
TDB: When you first design the high grades, do you end up using a premium material that you might not otherwise use in a lower grade?
KH: It depends. There is always a cost tradeoff. When we design these kinds of trucks, they have a lot of variations, so it can happen. One example is that premium grades only have a large solid surface wrapped in front of the passenger. While on the SR-5 there is a small built-in storage shelf. So, okay, maybe it won’t have a wrapped area, but we’ve added a feature that would be useful for that customer who wants a truck that is more basic for their purpose and what they do.
TDB: How has this truck affected the next generation of Tacoma; what does it look like and how do you approach it from a design point of view?
KH: The only thing I will say is that by starting from scratch with a brand new truck, we had the chance to reset the identity of Toyota’s truck. And we will take advantage of it. So there’s going to be, I think, a good connection between Tundra and Tacoma. When you see these two trucks together, there is no doubt that they are Toyota trucks, without a doubt.
TDB: You know, the Tundra’s new platform would make a great Sequoia; it’s been a bit long in the tooth.
KH: It would be a natural fit. But you’re right, it’s overdue and I’ll say this, it’ll make – it would make – a great Sequoia.