SAN ANTONIO, TX – In a year when Toyota Motor Corp. has managed at times to outsell Chrysler Group in the U.S. and Ford Motor Co. globally, it’s hard to think of the Japanese auto maker as an underdog.

Tundra Double Cab

But that’s the position where Toyota finds itself in the big-truck arena. When Toyota launched the Tundra pickup in 2000, it was the first foreign nameplate to compete against the Ford F-150, Chevy Silverado and Dodge Ram. Due to its smaller size, the Tundra never truly stacked up – a fact that has received renewed attention in the wake of Nissan’s boisterous Titan launch.

Nissan claims the Titan is the first true fullsize Japanese pickup and has gone so far as to call Toyota’s Tundra a liability – damaging the legitimacy of Japanese pickup trucks.

“Well, it’s always nice when your competition refers to you,” jokes Ernest Bastien, corporate manager-vehicle operations, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

With the launch of the Titan and the new Ford F-150, both for ’04, truck buzz has reached a fevered pitch. Very much under the radar, Toyota now is launching a Double Cab version of its Tundra – which combines a full 5-passenger cab with a longer pickup truck bed. It largely is seen as a stopgap until Toyota offers up a more legitimate contender, slated to be built at its forthcoming plant here, beginning in 2006.

Bastien says the ’04 Tundra Double Cab works to attract a fast-growing niche. The double cab/crew cab segment is forecast to take 40% of pickup truck share by the end of the decade, from 30% now. A little more than three years ago, there were no fullsize half-ton double-cab pickups on the market, Toyota says.

The new model rides on a stretched version of the current Tundra’s Dana Corp.-built frame to accommodate the fullsize bed. To do so, Toyota enlisted the help of heavy-truck maker Hino Motors Ltd., a Toyota company.

At about 19 ft. (5.8 m) long, the Tundra Double Cab keeps a fullsize, 74.3-in. (188.7-cm) pickup truck bed, which is more than 7 ins. (17.8 cm) longer than the new Ford F-150 Super Crew or the Nissan Titan Crew Cab, making the Tundra some 6 ins. (15.2 cm) longer than the competition as well. Payload, at 1,875 lbs. (850 kg), also bests the comparable Ford and Nissan competition – by 200 lbs. (91 kg) in the Titan and 500 lbs. (227 kg) on the F-150.

Other features include greater towing capacity, a more comfortable rear seat and a first-in-class power vertical sliding window that opens fully.

It is powered by Toyota’s i-Force V-8, also found in the Sequoia, Land Cruiser, 4-Runner and full Tundra line, which makes 240 hp at 4,800 rpm and 315 lb.-ft. (427 Nm) of torque – far short of the double 300-plus numbers the competition boasts.

Bastien isn’t worried. He sees Tundra courting a different buyer than Titan, which he believes Nissan is selling to based on horsepower and torque numbers, alone.

“Going 0-60 (mph) is not necessarily a priority for someone taking their kids to and from school,” Bastien says.

The Tundra Double Cab starts at $25,645 for a 4x2 SR5; $29,270 for a 4x2 Limited; $28,955 for a 4x4 SR5; and $32,600 for a 4x4 Limited. Fully loaded, it costs about $37,000, officials say.

Toyota says it may have an advantage in the Tundra Double Cab’s launch, because the Tundra name, unlike Titan, has been around for a while. And while there is heavy marketing for Titan, and even more for the F-150, Tundra isn’t shrinking away. Commercials are to begin during football games on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 27.