Special Coverage

Greater LA Auto Show

RALEIGH-DURHAM, NC – Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. expects its fullsize ’08 Sequoia SUV to repeat the early success of the first-generation model.

The older model in 2002 sold 70,187 units and 67,067 in 2003, Ward’s data shows. But demand has continued to trend downward as high gas prices and competing models, primarily from segment-leading General Motors Corp., have come to market.

“(The) Sequoia was developed to offer buyers a mainstream, large SUV in a segment that, at that time, was contributing about 680,000 unit sales annually,” Brian Smith, Toyota brand marketing manager-trucks and SUVs, says at a recent media preview here of the ’08 Sequoia.

The new Sequoia makes its pubic debut today at the 2007 Los Angeles auto show.

Volume in Ward’s Large SUV segment stood at 476,588 units through October. Although the segment has declined since the Sequoia was introduced seven years ago, Smith says Toyota expects industry sales to stabilize at 500,000 units annually over the next couple years.

Therefore, the auto maker is setting a 12-month 65,000-66,000 unit sales goal. The number is more than triple the 19,473 Sequoias delivered through October, which marked a 30.6% decline from like-2006.

Toyota is maintaining a rosy outlook because many buyers “see no alternative to the fullsize SUV,” Smith says. “They are active and image-conscious owners with families who command styling and utility capability the minivan cannot offer.”

That capability now includes a towing capacity of 10,000 lbs. (4,536 kg), up from the current Sequoia’s 6,000 lbs. (2,722 kg). This new potency was made possible because Toyota based the ’08 Sequoia on the Tundra half-ton truck platform.

Sequoia Chief Engineer Motoharu Araya says the Tundra benefited from the Sequoia, as well. Both vehicles were developed simultaneously.

“Not only is a fullsize SUV more complex than a fullsize truck, it is significantly heavier, which means all systems and components must operate under more severe conditions,” Araya says.

“It made sense to build (the) Tundra to the same higher stress specifications as (the) Sequoia,” he says, noting the 10,000-lb. tow rating, as well as powertrain calibrations and suspension, braking and steering systems used by the Tundra actually were plotted for the Sequoia.

Araya, who was responsible for the chassis, drivetrain and powertrain development of the new-generation Sequoia, coined the “Sequoia Company Concept,” which he says was meant to “avoid overlap and redundancy of effort and to identify and integrate opportunities for efficiency that would work to the benefit of both vehicles.”

Indeed, from the B-pillar forward, the Tundra and Sequoia are “structurally, nearly identical,” he says.

The Sequoia’s engines also are shared with the Tundra, including the new iForce 5.7L V-8, which Toyota says should be fitted on 90% of all ’08 Sequoias sold. The other available mill is the iForce 4.7L V-8, a carryover from the current Sequoia.

In addition to its 8-person seating configuration (seven seats with the Platinum trim), Sequoia distinguishes itself from the Tundra with a variable-flow-control steering system, which was first introduced on the $100,000 Toyota Century luxury sedan in Japan and improves fuel economy by lessening the horsepower drawn to the steering system.

Also specific to the Sequoia is Toyota’s Electronic Modulated Suspension (H-TEMS) Adjustable suspension, standard on the top-of-the-line Platinum trim and featuring normal, comfort and sport settings.

Additionally, Toyota increased the width of the Sequoia seat framework to assist passenger comfort. A soil-and-stain-release seat fabric is available on SR5 trims, and the front passenger seat folds flat in SR5 dress.

The 40/20/40 second-row seats can slide fore and aft and fold flat. A 1-touch slide provides access to the third row. Second-row captain-style seats are available on the Limited trim and standard on Platinum models. Vehicles with the captain’s chairs have a large center console in place of a middle seat.

The third-row seat is split 60/40, reclines and folds flat. Power switches are located in the rear cargo area and in front of the third row on Limited and Platinum editions.

Among the ’08 Sequoia’s three trim offerings – Smith expects the SR5 to comprise 55% of the total mix, with the Limited appealing to 35% of buyers and the Platinum grade accounting for 10%.

Drivetrain configurations will be split 50/50 between 2-wheel-drive and 4-wheel-drive models, he predicts.

SR5 Sequoias will appeal to young families and couples, as well as Hispanic buyers, Smith says. The Limited will be chosen by families with older children, and the Platinum will add older couples to its customer base, wanting more refinement and comfort in their SUV.

Production of the ’08 Sequoia begins at Toyota’s Princeton, IN, plant this month, and the vehicles begin arriving at dealerships in late December.

A national advertising campaign will kick off in early January, with plans for network and cable TV commercials, including ads targeted for the 2008 National Football League’s Super Bowl. National and regional “engagement” marketing events also are planned, Smith says.

Pricing will be announced today in Los Angeles.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com