Could There Really Be a New Toyota Compact Truck to Take on Maverick, Santa Cruz?

Toyota executives are saying they’re looking at producing a new compact pickup. And why not? Toyota is no doubt watching the Ford Maverick and the Hyundai Santa Cruz trucks likely steal sales. Those compact trucks, built on car or SUV unibody frames, are capturing a significant portion of the small truck market that Tacoma used to dominate. And, Volkswagen will be coming after the same market with the Scout. So, when Toyota executive told Motor Trend they were looking at a new compact truck, we listened.

Before you get your hopes up that a new Toyota compact truck is coming soon, hold your horsepower. But, it is interesting to know that Toyota is watching.

Ford Maverick and Hyundai Santa Cruz are built on SUVs

2022 Ford Maverick Hybrid XLT. Preproduction vehicle with optional equipment shown. Available fall 2021. Could there be a new Toyota compact truck on the horizon to compete?
2022 Ford Maverick Hybrid XLT | Ford

Ford builds the Maverick on the same platform as the Ford Escape and the Ford Bronco Sport SUV. Those SUVs make a great truck because they’re already built to hold a lot in the back and tow. The Santa Cruz is based on the popular Tucson, which is also a popular SUV for the same reasons. Some are saying these two could even kill the Tacoma.

Toyota makes nine different SUVs. The 4Runner is already the SUV version of the Tacoma. The Sequoia is based on the full-sized Tundra. The RAV4 is a popular SUV, but its design that prioritizes hybrid power requires a large hump in the back that would probably limit creating a bed. Same thing for the Highlander. Does that mean we could see a Corolla Cross with a bed? A Venza with a bed?

Toyota’s brand heritage in the U.S. was built on small trucks

A white 1986 Toyota Pickup truck. Could Toyota be considering a new compact truck?
The Toyota Pickup | Thierry Falise/LightRocket via Getty Images

Toyota almost invented the compact truck in the U.S. with the original HiLux in 1968. The little truck could barely get out of irs own way, with a 76-horsewpower tiny four-cylinder and seats for two in the cab. There were no creature comforts in the truck. But, who needed things like a radio, a clock, or a tachometer when you were simply going to the job site? It was (slightly) larger and more powerful than the original Datsun 521, which was also first sold in the U.S. in 1968.

The original Pickup was a huge hit for Toyota

In 1980 Toyota’s truck offering was just called the Pickup. Forget the Tacoma, or the Tundra, or even the HiLux name. Sure, we’ve come to know the early trucks as HiLux, but that name was never officially used in North America for this generation of trucks.  It was a truck, to do truck things, and it didn’t need any fancier a name than Pickup. The trucks were little, but slightly bigger than, say, a LUV from Chevy.

You could order a two-wheel drive or a four-wheel-drive Pickup. They had a four-speed manual transmission, and seats for three if they were three good friends. It’s virtually impossible to find a stock early Pickup. Pretty much every Toyota from that era has been lifted, or has an engine swap something more powerful than the 20R four-cylinder that made just 90 horsepower.

The Tacoma SR is the spiritual successor

Tacoma SR5 is the best successor to the original Toyota Pickup of the 1980s.
The Tacoma SR5 | Toyota

When most of us think of a Tacoma, we think of the lifted, 4×4, off-road TRD models. But the base SR version is probably the closest spiritual successor those Pickups of yore. The SR, in base form, has many of the features of the Maverick or Santa Cruz. Some may look at the SR as the cheapest Toyota, we look at the TRDs as the SR with $25,000 in upgrades. The base SR can do most of the truck stuff you need, and still get 23 mpg on the highway. It starts at $27,150 and that includes a ton of comforts that in 1980 would have sounded like science fiction, like power windows, USB ports, and Toyota Safety Sense.

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