March 14, 2019 by Ryan ZumMallen, @Zoomy575M

No brand had a busier 2019 Chicago Auto Show than Toyota.

The automaker showed a redesigned Tacoma pickup, a TRD Pro version of the Sequoia SUV and a TRD Off-Road version of the RAV4 crossover.

The expansion of vehicles equipped with adventure-ready chops is a direct response to market demand as buyers choose the off-road TRD variants on about 40 percent of available vehicles. The most capable TRD Pro models also provide Toyota with a rugged brand image.

And trucks play an increasingly important role in the overall Toyota portfolio. Light trucks – a category that includes crossovers, SUVs and pickup trucks – accounted for 62 percent of Toyota sales in 2018, up from 57 percent the year before.

Jack Hollis, vice president of Toyota Motor North America, discussed the rise of adventure vehicles and Toyota’s plans to increase their production at the 2019 Chicago Auto Show. Here is an edited version of the conversation.

On the decision to add a TRD edition of the RAV4.

RAV4 is now selling over 400,000 units a year. We have a RAV4 Hybrid and XSE [a premium sport trim] and now TRD. It’s about giving more choice to a vehicle that has so much volume. As the SUV and truck market continues to grow you want to get variants to market and talk to the consumers about what Toyota has to offer. This is a great way to do that. There are people who will want to do trail driving, and this is their opportunity to expand those options.

On the possibility of a future RAV4 TRD Pro.

There may be, but that’s not in our plans right now. TRD Pros have traditionally been based upon body-on-frame vehicles. In the future? Potentially. But that’s not our plan.

On rising interest in outdoor adventuring.

More people, especially as you get younger, want to have that access. That’s why the SUV and truck market has blossomed. People are saying, “Don’t tell me how to use my car, just give me all the access and I’ll figure it out.” And that’s what we’re doing. That’s what the whole industry is doing.

On the growing TRD family of vehicles.

TRD Pro sales are around 5 percent of our total sales of the Tacoma, Tundra and 4Runner. A TRD Pro tends to be purchased by those who are specifically going to use them off-road. Some people buy it because they like the looks and features, and that’s cool; but it’s really a performance driver who wants and has the capability to use it. So that number is relatively low, and we’ve kept it low to keep it more exclusive. But TRD editions of products still make up about 40 percent of all of our Tacoma, Tundra, 4Runner and Sequoia products. TRD editions of our products are very high, but TRD Pro are small.

On the addition of the Ford Ranger and Jeep Gladiator to the midsize pickup segment.

I love it when competitors abandon a (group) of their customers and then want to jump back into the segment. They leave, they go, they come back. By us staying committed, we gained the equity with consumers. That’s what’s great about Tacoma. We stayed right there for over half the market share of the entire business.

But specifically, the Jeep Gladiator is going to be a great product. Ford Ranger is going to be a great product. What it’s going to do is add volume to the entire segment. I think we all end up growing because of it. Also we get a lot of great competition and new innovation that pushes everybody to be that much stronger. When we get more players to come into that segment – a segment that we’re already leading in – it’s great because it’s going to push us harder.

On changes to Toyota’s truck plants in Texas and Mexico.

We’re really proud of the investments Toyota is making in North America. You see it with Guanajuato, Mexico. With that plant coming on board full speed next year, we’re going to have an opportunity to build a significant amount of Tacomas. Doing so allows the San Antonio plant mix to change. We can take a little bit of Tacoma away from San Antonio and change that over to Tundras to lift our entire truck production numbers. We’ll continue to see how consumers react to that, but the good news for Toyota is we’ll be able to increase the entire product load of both Tacoma and Tundra at the same time.