Contradicting a trend that's gained momentum in the past decade, Toyota has reduced the maximum trailer-towing rating of the Tundra half-ton for 2011, in one case up to 1,100 pounds.
Toyota is one of the first manufacturers to test and certify its trucks against a draft trailer-towing standard known as “Performance Requirements for Determining Tow Vehicle Gross Combination Weight Ratings and Trailer Weight Ratings,” or simply Society of Automotive Engineers standard J2807.
Those dry terms don't do justice to an important selling feature for manufacturers and a passionate bragging point for owners.
Until now, each manufacturer was free to test using proprietary conditions ideally suited to a truck’s towing strengths and decide their own max trailering rating. But an industry alliance that includes Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, Toyota and Honda and several leading trailer and hitch makers has been working on setting a unified standard with SAE for nearly three years in response to large recent hikes in claimed maximum tow ratings that have pushed some half-tons into formerly three-quarter-ton towing territory.
Once J2807 is implemented, truck buyers will finally have an apples-to-apples way to compare the trailer-towing capacity of all light-duty pickups. All manufacturers are expected to follow it starting with the 2013 model year.
J2807 establishes tow-vehicle performance requirements against the following criteria to establish max ratings: timed acceleration on level ground and up a 12 percent incline; maintaining speed on a real-world grade; understeer; trailer-sway response; braking and park brake at GCWR; and tow-vehicle hitch/attachment structure. To minimize test variations, it provides standard test trailer specifications and requirements for their use in these tests.
When these standards are applied to today’s second generation Tundra with the 5.7-liter V-8, the results are 400-pound drops for regular cab models; 500-pound drops for two-wheel-drive double cab and CrewMax and four-wheel-drive double cab models; and a steep 1,100-pound drop for the four-wheel-drive CrewMax.
“Even though the [max trailering] numbers have dropped, the Tundra’s performance hasn’t been compromised,” Toyota spokesman Sam Butto said. “We’re following a new standard to measure trailer towing, just like a few years ago when standards for measuring fuel economy were changed.”
As some would expect, gross combined weight ratings have also decreased but it’s less than the tow ratings have dropped.
GCW is the maximum allowable weight for a pickup pulling a trailer, including cargo and passengers, that the truck can handle without risking damage.
In 2010, GCW was a uniform 16,000 pounds across the Tundra lineup. Now, a model like the CrewMax, which had the largest drop in towing, has a max GCW of 15,300 pounds while other Tundras have higher GCWs.
That’s because the new SAE rating stipulates measuring the trucks with higher curb weights than manufacturers may have used in the past, said David Williams, Toyota’s product marketing planner for Tundra and Tacoma pickups.
“J2807 measures [max trailering] using a curb weight that includes two 150-pound people, fuel and fluids, and reflects greater options content,” Williams said.
Curb weight must be measured using a truck equipped with options that have at least 33 percent sales penetration, according to SAE. Those options could include heavier power seats instead of manual adjusted, a sunroof and power windows.
That added weight also has an impact on driving dynamics, which helps explain why the extra large CrewMax (often bought loaded with options and creature comforts) has the largest GCW and trailering drop of any Tundra.
Toyota isn’t the only manufacturer that’s starting to use J2807. Others are also beginning to follow its guidelines.
“Ram trucks meet the key elements of the SAE standard, including [maintaining a constant] speed on grade,” said David Elshoff, Ram Trucks spokesman.
So what's the bottom line for customers as Toyota, Chrysler and others make this switch?
Some tow ratings will go down, like the Tundra’s, or maybe increase, even if the vehicle hasn't changed mechanically between model years. Most important, vehicles rated under the J2807 guidelines can’t be compared fairly to vehicles still rated by a manufacturer's own standards. But when all vehicles are rated the same way, comparing tow ratings will be more accurate, trustworthy and, most importantly, useful to the customer.
“There's a huge consumer benefit for this transparency,” Williams said.