More stories related to Chicago Auto ShowCHICAGO – Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. blatantly will pursue young males and damp down demand from environmental groups and mature drivers for the ’07 FJ Cruiser SUV.

The vehicle, built on a shortened version of the 4Runner chassis, is slated to go on sale in first-quarter 2006 and will be shipped to the U.S. and Canada from Japan.

Toyota is targeting 40,000 units out of the gate, but Chief Operating Officer Jim Press tells Ward’s it is safe to assume demand will outpace the initial forecast.

The vehicle likely will start in the low $20,000 base-price range to compete directly with the Jeep Wrangler and Nissan Xterra, according to officials.

Press also says it is safe to assume a hybrid is not in the immediate plans for the FJ.

“(Because) of the recovery of cost and the application, this is not one of the first priorities,” he says. “This vehicle will be more of an off-road machine as opposed to a highway vehicle, which would be a higher priority for a hybrid.”

Press says the SUV is expected to get similar fuel economy numbers as the 4Runner.

The FJ “certainly is not for everyone,” says Don Esmond, senior vice president and general manager-Toyota Div., at the prototype unveil here at the Chicago Auto Show.

Press says Toyota is targeting young males looking for performance and image, and the auto maker is comfortable with the idea that the serious off-road SUV will “be over the top for most buyers.”

Press says some 60 million new drivers will be licensed over the next decade, and Toyota intends on chasing every last one of them with its growing brand portfolio, which includes the youth-oriented Scion brand.

“The Generation Y is a mini baby boom,” Press says, and Toyota intends to remain “the volume brand” among them. “We also wanted to provide a product that has high male appeal,” he says, pointing out the RAV4 cross/utility is popular among females.

The FJ’s 2-door configuration, lack of third-row seats and rugged personality should make it easy to stick to the plan of selling mostly to young males, as opposed to young-at-heart empty nesters, Mark Amstock, national product marketing manager-Truck/SUVs/Van tells Ward’s.

Press says the FJ was not slotted in Scion’s lineup because of the strong heritage of Toyota trucks and the lineage of the FJ Land Cruiser, which was sold in the U.S. during the 1960s and 1970s and still holds much interest among enthusiast “cult” groups.

But Toyota will use the Scion playbook in developing a marketing game plan for the FJ, including a strong reliance on grassroots marketing, Amstock says.

jstoll@primediabusiness.com