How Toyota's Tacoma became king of the U.S. midsize truck market

The American pickup truck market is dominated by domestic brands, primarily Ford, Chevrolet, GMC and Ram. U.S. brands benefit from a loyal buyer base, and a 25% tax on imported trucks.

But the Toyota Tacoma shows how a foreign automaker can find and control a niche within that market.

The top-selling full-size pickup line is Ford’s F-Series, especially the F-150, which is also the bestselling vehicle in America, according to Edmunds. GM and Ram pickups trail Ford, which also has the top-selling compact pickup truck — the Maverick.

But U.S. automakers have wavered in their commitment to smaller pickups, while the Japanese automaker Toyota has had a presence in the segment as far back as the 1970s. Toyota introduced the Tacoma in 1995 as a successor to the Toyota Pickup, famously known as the Hilux elsewhere in the world. Meanwhile, Ford Motor discontinued the Ranger after the 2011 model year, and then revived it in 2019. GM pulled the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon off the market in 2012, before reviving both in 2014.

In 2023, Toyota sold over 237,000 Tacomas in the U.S., far outpacing all of its midsize competitors by a wide margin. The next best seller was the Chevrolet Colorado, which sold just shy of 72,000 units. The GMC Canyon, a slightly higher-end version of the same truck, adds roughly another 22,600 in sales for the U.S. automaker.

Toyota’s careful attention to the needs of Tacoma owners is seen as part of the reason for that loyal market base and the model’s consistent sales. For example, about 40% of Tacoma owners take their trucks off-road at least once a month, so Toyota offers several off-road packages for the truck.

What’s more, of the some seven models in the midsize segment, Tacoma is the only one that comes with a long bed. It also is only one of two that comes in a two-door version, and one of two that comes with manual transmission. Toyota’s focus on quality, durability and reliability, or QDR, helped as well. Tacomas have some of the highest residual values on the market.

But industry forecasters say the number of models in the segment is about to double over the next few year, to a total of around 14. Historically, the pickups have about a 20% share of the overall vehicle market (double checking that’s right?), and the midsize segment is just a fraction of that. That translates into a lot more competition for the same customers in the near future.

Watch the video to learn more about how the Tacoma has stayed atop the midsize truck segment, and how it is working to meet the challenge of an expanding market.

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