DETROIT – A radically revamped Ford F-150 and all-new Nissan Titan dominated a dramatic year for pickup trucks, but Toyota Motor Corp. comes back with its answer at the North American International Auto show: the FTX fullsize pickup concept.

The next-generation Tundra is slated to bow in 2006, produced at an all-new plant that’s currently under construction in San Antonio, TX.

With this truck, Toyota hopes to establish as strong a reputation for pickups as it has in the passenger-car market, says James E. Press, executive vice president and chief operating officer-Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc.

Though still a concept, the FTX is meant to give a feel for the direction that Toyota intends to take in the expanding fullsize-pickup-truck segment. And that feeling is big, bold and beefy.

Toyota FTX fullsize
pickup concept

The eye-catching, aggressive design has an emphasis on innovative utility features – including a stowaway toolbox in the bed and utility trays that pull out from under the running boards.

The forthcoming production model not only will adopt such cues but also will be all-new from the ground up. “It will have the power and payload and capacity to back up what it looks like,” Press tells Ward's.

This means a new V-8 powerplant, he confirms. The current generation is powered by Toyota’s aging 4.7L i-Force V-8, also found in the Sequoia, Land Cruiser, 4-Runner and full Tundra line. Its 240 hp and 315 lb.-ft. (427 Nm) of torque fall far short of major competitors.

Also, in a surprise announcement, Toyota says a hybrid version of the next-generation Tundra is under serious consideration – a point Press emphasizes by applying the word “hybrid” to the side of the FTX concept.

“It’s all about choice in the fullsize pickup segment,” he says. “And we think that a large-displacement V-8 hybrid gas-electric engine pumping out loads of torque while delivering V-6 fuel efficiency and Toyota quality is an option many pickup buyers will consider.”

Such a vehicle wouldn’t bow simultaneously with the next-generation Tundra in 2006 but is a possible option for further down the road.

Press doesn’t think the intense competition among pickup trucks, forecast only to heighten in future years, will produce any losers.

“It’s an expanding market,” Press tells Ward's. “Think about the fact that in 10 years, the population of the United States is going to be 310 million. Trucks are going to continue to grow. There’s plenty of room. And it doesn’t have to take share from somebody else.”

Tundra’s target market, he says, will be Toyota customers who want a bigger truck and also want to stay in the Toyota family. And the introduction of the Titan only can help Tundra – both now and in the future.

“It’s a good truck, and it does show there are two legitimate alternatives to the Detroit Three,” he says. “So we expand the market for everybody.”

Toyota, for the time being, says it’s not at a disadvantage: “We’re selling every Tundra we can build,” Press tells Ward's. Plus, the new Tundra Double Cab, which bowed in late 2003, “has exceeded everyone’s expectations.”

The Double Cab is closer in size to the Titan and other fullsize competitors and largely is seen as a stopgap measure until the next-generation Tundra hits the market.

kzachary@primediabusiness.com