Friday, March 30, 2007

Toyota trucks have Big 3 defending turf

Saturday, March 17, 2007
Toyota trucks have Big 3 defending turf
As automaker intensifies war to become No. 1, GM, Ford and Chrysler slam Tundra in company e-mails, ads.
Sharon Terlep / The Detroit News

If there were any doubt that Toyota Motor Co. is emerging as a legitimate threat on a truck scene long dominated by Detroit steel, consider some of the latest maneuvers by the folks peddling American-made pickups.

A General Motors Corp. sales manager recently sent an e-mail to dealers picking apart some of the more lofty claims in a Toyota TV commercial touting its new Texas-built Tundra pickup.

Workers at Ford Motor Co., including Mark Fields, president of the Americas division, are spreading the word that Ford trucks were spotted helping out in the construction of the San Antonio Toyota plant.

And, in Atlanta, a major Chevrolet dealer is airing a radio ad stating, "Toyota contributes more to our staggering national trade deficit than any manufacturer."

That Toyota's brazen entry to the full-size pickup market is stirring strong feelings is natural given the stakes involved.

"As they continue to do well in the marketplace and there's been more and more talk about them eclipsing us to become No. 1, it puts them into a different limelight," GM spokesman Terry Rhadigan said. "It puts them into a more adversarial position."

Even as Toyota has steadily gained market share on the domestic automakers home turf, trucks remained an area where GM and Ford could reliably dominate.

But within the last year, the Japanese automaker has opened a new plant in the heart of truck country, launched an Americana-themed ad campaign and taken the unusual move of offering incentives on a brand new product.

And Toyota has invested heavily in the new truck, a bigger and stronger version of the current Tundra, to boost its share of the lucrative big pickup market. GM, meanwhile, has come out with new versions of its full-size pickups.

The Japanese automaker sold 124,508 Tundras last year, while Ford and GM each sold more than 800,000 full-size pickups.

Now, Detroit's carmakers are fighting to protect their turf.

"They've made it a war," with the Tundra, said Jim Ziegler, an automotive retail consultant based in Duluth, Ga. "And GM cannot afford to let them win this war."

The e-mail sent to GM dealers says Toyota makes misleading claims in the Tundra ad, which features the truck hauling a mammoth trailer and then speeding to the edge of a cliff then halting. "Bottom line: Our truck is better! Spread the word," the e-mail says.

GM's communication officials have heard the radio ad, but the company wasn't involved in its creation, Rhadigan said.

At Ford, folks are circulating a Louisville Courier-Journal article about Ford truck spottings in behind-the-scenes footage of the Tundra ad. Ford's Fields, the article says, had a video posted to the company's Web site highlighting the blue oval sightings.

Toyota is taking the heat in stride. Spokesman Chad Harp pointed out that the company's boasts in the commercial, including the Tundra pulling a 10,000-pound trailer, are backed by scientific testing. The GM e-mail said the trailer was only 5,000 pounds.

"We know we are in territory that is not our home turf," Harp said. "You aren't going to see us stepping to a level where we're trying to defend ourselves."

Steve Cook, a GM dealer in Vasser, said all the competitive rhetoric is taking the focus off his vehicles.

"It seems we're always talking about Toyota," he said. "We've got good products. We need be a little bit more like Toyota and just do it."

You can reach Sharon Terlep at (313)223-4686 or

© Copyright 2007 The Detroit News. All rights reserved.


Post a Comment

<< Home