Blame it on a misspoken piece of information; blame it on a reconsidered decision; or blame it on the current hyper sensitivity to all things safety related, but the 2014 Toyota Tundra will not get an integrated brake controller like we were told at the 2013 Chicago Auto Show introduction.
According to Toyota spokesman Chris Gomez, Toyota continues to carefully consider whether to add the towing feature, and it will only make the controller available if it can be confident that Tundra customers want it, are willing to pay the price Toyota will have to charge and that it can satisfy all of the company's safety standards.
This is an interesting development. Many assumed that since the 2014 Tundra was Toyota's big chance to give the outdated and lackluster pickup truck (last updated in 2007) a significant upgrade, offering an integrated brake controller (just like Ford, Chevrolet, GMC and Ram) was a no-brainer. Even Nissan said taking advantage of the truck's sophisticated computer antilock braking sensors for stability control and trailer-sway control can be a huge safety advantage for both novice and expert towers. However, according to Gomez, Toyota does not believe its customers are demanding this feature at the price point it's been researching.
Something doesn't quite smell right here. Either this is a good safety technology feature (and investment for Toyota) for people who tow or it's not. And if Toyota wants to position itself as a serious alternative to the other major players in the segment (all of whom have the option), then it seems to us it needs to start with some of the more credible and commonly used technologies that support duties the Tundra might be called to do, namely towing. For pickups, offering tie-downs in the bed makes sense. Offering a capable four-wheel-drive package makes sense. Providing a strong and efficient powertrain makes sense. And offering a solid and safe towing package should make sense as well (and that tow package should offer an optional integrated brake controller — seems like that's the price of entry nowadays).
Of course, we don't want to ignore the current reality we're facing either. In the last six months, not only has Toyota been hit with a $1.2 billion fine (technically a "settlement") for not getting recall and investigation materials to the government fast enough, but GM continues to be flogged by congress regarding a multiyear, multi-vehicle ignition recall that includes almost 50 crashes and at least 13 fatalities. It was recently fined $35 million as a result. Never shy about offering his opinion, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne suggests it is possible that the current watchdog climate could potentially hurt the auto industry (eventually making our autos more expensive) and not necessarily make vehicles safer than they already are.
Our short conversation with Gomez was a little frustrating because although he was saying Toyota wants to be very careful about getting the best and safest products to its customers, it seemed contradictory that Toyota is reluctant to offer an option that could make trailer towing safer for its buyers. An integrated trailer brake controller would provide an extra level of "just-in-case" capability that, you would think, would make the corporate lawyers feel more secure.
What could be a better good-faith gesture than providing all the adjustable safety towing gear you can have for pickup owners who need to tow?
Or does Toyota thinks that if it offers an integrated trailer brake controller its customers might be more likely to tow something beyond the factory recommendations and it doesn't want to risk that kind of exposure? Seems like weird logic, especially for this segment.
Gomez did say Toyota is carefully considering the option and he would be very surprised if the brake controller didn't show up in a (near) future model, but that still begs the question about the delay of something that was promised earlier.
We were unable to get a satisfactory answer from Toyota, but we'll be checking back on this one. Like the J2807 towing standards (where Toyota showed tremendous leadership), it's our guess this is an important issue for every pickup consumer who is considering a truck purchase.
Will Toyota lose a sale because it doesn't have the brake controller integrated? Probably not. But offering it, at least as an option, is the right thing to do. After all, this is the pickup that towed the space shuttle Endeavor, right?
Cars.com photo by Mark Williams