Toyota Reaches for Success at Texas Plant

Toyota San Antonio 1 II

By David Boldt

"Toyota trucks" not only rolls off the tongue; in San Antonio they also roll off an assembly line. On the city's sparsely populated south side Toyota recently built its 1 millionth vehicle, an impressive milestone for a facility where production began October 2006 — just seven years ago. Despite that numeric success, some automotive industry experts regard the plant and one of its two products — the full-size Tundra pickup truck — as underachievers. By adding production of the midsize Tacoma in 2010, Toyota certainly bolstered the plant's numbers and, by extension, its business model. However, questions persist regarding Toyota's original strategy and what Toyota can do to bolster the Tundra (and its plant) going forward.

Texas is rarely regarded as a go-to state for vehicle assembly. Ford operated assembly operations in Dallas — beginning in 1914 — for almost 60 years but left "Big D" before President Richard Nixon left Washington, D.C. And General Motors has assembled sedans, pickups and — most recently — large SUVs in the Dallas/Fort Worth suburb of Arlington since 1954. So there was precedent for Toyota's decision to locate in San Antonio.

It was the Texas appetite for trucks, however, that closed the Toyota deal. Ford sells as many F-Series pickups within Texas during a calendar year as Honda sells Acuras within the Lower 48. And with an economy only slowed — not rattled — by the recent economic downturn, the market's appetite for pickups is not only ongoing, but growing.

The seeds for the San Antonio plant plant began with conversations between former Mayor Henry Cisneros and at least one individual from San Antonio's Japanese sister city, Kumamoto, Japan, who had a family member working for Toyota. With a very real need for jobs in San Antonio outside tourism and agriculture, the Cisneros discussions led to ongoing talks between San Antonio, the state of Texas and Toyota. And that led to a groundbreaking for the plant in the fall of 2003, a Texas-sized job fair (with roughly 100,000 applicants pursuing 2,000 initial jobs) in 2005 and the first redesigned Tundra rolling off the line in the fall of 2006. Students of recent history will remember that Toyota experienced turbulent headwinds — the U.S. economic crash, Japanese earthquake and tsunami, and continued economic recession — almost from the beginning.

It's one thing to insert your well-considered Camry into the veritable swamp of ill-considered, noncompetitive Chevys and Fords. It's quite another to tackle the pickup side of the domestic equation, where the Ford F-Series is a perennial best-seller and GM — with Chevrolet's Silverado and GMC's Sierra — follows at a very close second. If the domestic industry, until very recently, has been lackluster in its development of compact and midsize cars, it's been the exact opposite in the engineering, development and marketing of full-size pickups.

Into that fray came Toyota's first full-size Tundra. You couldn't fault the execution: a fusion of domestic brawn blended with Toyota design themes. An almost Lexus-like level of refinement, from both V-6 and V-8 variants, was an added bonus. But with no subsequent heavy-duty variant, and an aversion on the part of Toyota marketing executives to match Ford and GM dollar for dollar on the discount and incentive fronts, Tundra volumes were almost condemned to stay closer to Ram than Ford's F-Series.

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To say the timing of the San Antonio plant was unfortunate is an understatement. Just as the finishing touches were applied, the recession hit in full force and sales of full-size pickups fell off a cliff. Rather than lay off workers, though, Toyota paid its employees to work in shifts and the need for line workers shrank. Conveniently, in the absence of greater demand came the very real need to assemble Toyota's highly regarded Tacoma — which essentially owns the midsized market with more than 60 percent of that market — somewhere other than its plant in Fremont, Calif. That facility, which was a cooperative agreement with GM (which had gone bankrupt), was shed during the U.S.-mandated restructuring of the General. The two shifts operating in San Antonio could comfortably accommodate the Tacoma's production volumes, but some industry naysayers suspected full-size and midsize trucks could not coexist on the same production line. It had never been done before. Nevertheless, assembly of the Tacoma began in San Antonio in June 2010.

With the hint of a recovering economy and San Antonio's two shifts running at (or above) full capacity, the need for a full redesign of the Tundra was deemed unnecessary. A mix of reduced expectations was confirmed with the debut of the 2013 Tundra at the Chicago Auto Show in February 2012. While GM was publicly discussing plans for a ground-up redesign of its full-size Silverado and Sierra half-tons, and Chrysler was finishing an all-new Ram platform with recently updated sheet metal, Toyota did a major/minor refresh on the 2014 Tundra's existing chassis and drivetrain. There was nothing wrong with the existing platform, but in the intensely competitive landscape of full-size pickup trucks, Toyota's strategy could be likened to not bringing enough weapons to an important and life-threatening Thunderdome cage fight.

During a recent tour of Toyota's San Antonio facility no one seemed overly concerned by what many see as a strategic misstep. With nearly 3,000 of its own employees supported by another 3,000 working for 21 outside vendors, the plant's one line and two shifts produce a truck every 62 seconds. And that production runs the gamut, from a fleet-specific Tacoma regular cab to the latest upmarket derivative of the Tundra, dubbed the 1794 Edition. Demand for both the Tacoma and Tundra currently exceeds supply, and inventories on dealer lots are running short (in many cases just two weeks supply) of what dealers typically regard as optimal.

Despite the ongoing skepticism leveled at both San Antonio and its principal product, some in the industry believe Toyota to be on the correct truck track. One is analyst Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting at LMC Automotive, an auto industry prognosticator. Schuster suggests looking at the numbers.

"Toyota certainly is well behind the dominant domestic brands in the large truck segment," he said. "With the launch of San Antonio and the Tundra they have been able to take share of the segment from under 2 percent to 6 percent today. Toyota also builds the Tacoma at the plant … [its] share went from 20 percent of the segment 10 years ago to more than 50 percent today. Their primary focus remains on the car side of the market and with green technology, but Toyota has successfully used San Antonio to build competitive trucks and broaden their appeal in a very important market for them."

Chris Nielsen, president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas, and the plant's senior official, concurs. Connected to the San Antonio plant's planning, development and construction since 2003, Nielsen has been serving in its leadership role since 2009. Appropriately proud of the plant's assembly of two different trucks serving two distinct truck markets, Nielsen describes Toyota's internal measurements and barometers as secondary to Toyota's ultimate measure of success: customer satisfaction.

"At the end of the day, our success is based on how the end user perceives our truck," Nielsen said in a phone interview. "And in any number of surveys, both Tundra and Tacoma are at the top of their respective segments. … Texas has proven to be a great place to build great trucks."

In the end, regardless of what analysts, auto writers and amateur pundits contend, Toyota will pursue its goals in the steady, straightforward manner with which it approaches all opportunities. Not too long ago Toyota had no share of the full-size pickup market and but a small share of the small truck market. When observing Toyota, a good historian constitutes a good futurist. And who can argue with a truckload of optimism?

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Nice report. I think the Tundra will get fuel economy upgrades in the upcoming years. I like what they've done with the interior. After all most trucks don't have a new body and interiors all at once, example 2004 F-150 soldiered on with the old 5.4 for several years before it upgraded its motors.

Congrats to Toyota and their hard work that they put into Texas by creating jobs, improving the local economy, etc. I would consider a Toyota Tundra, but I hear the OEM parts are more expensive than the Dodge Ram's, which I currently own.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all

They need to put some kind of air dam under the front bumper, that would improve mileage and make the truck more stable at speed.

Toyota doesn't need to be compared to the domestic brands as an apples to apples view. It sells so many other vehicles well besides trucks.

Chrysler, GM, and Ford depend heavily on light-duty trucks in order to make a profit. Toyota sells 100K Tundras in a year and is fine with that.

In terms of product, the Tundra has room for improvement. The domestics are ahead of it in terms of performance in most cases. I suspect they will roll out powertrain improvements for MY2016

This good article to explain the Tundra and some of its problems but it missed one. That is things like Gulf States and Southeast Toyota which control what types of Tundra you can get as an ex. Texas is part of Gulf States Toyota and all new 5.7L 4x4 Tundra's are flex fuel which means you cannot supercharge as Toyota will not make a reflash for flex fuel. What that does is make you have to choose between 4x4 and TRD Supercharger or make you get a different brand of pickup all together because Toyota makes what you want but won't sell it in your area. As we know pickups sales are huge in Texas and big in general in the south which makes this problem noteworthy.


The parts may be more expensive but you seldom need any. Its a toyota. The whole point of buying one is because they aren't constantly falling apart.

Dude, Big Al, what and who are you talking to. That is the strangest rant I've ever seen. And that's saying a lot coming from this site.

Big Al, carguymitch is correct. Yes, the big three make cars. They just don't make a profit on them. Toyota, on the other hand, does. Perhaps Australia has more sane vehicle regulations than the US, but here, the manufacturers have to deal with the requirements of Corporate Average Fuel Economy, and for Detroit that means making money on pickups and giving away cars to keep average fuel mileage higher.

I am also from Australia. Big Al is from the "Top End" as they call it here.
I think Toyota missed the boat a bit by not introducing a full range of Pickups from the Tacoma to a 1 Ton.
Still they seem to "beaver" away at Markets and gradually improve their market share.
No they do not sell the Tacoma or Tundra here.

@Montessa _VR
Here is the comment that carguymitch made;

"Toyota doesn't need to be compared to the domestic brands as an apples to apples view. It sells so many other vehicles well besides trucks."


A comparable vehicle like a pickup of a specific size can have a direct comparison made.

Like a Camry compared to a Fusion.

The breakdown of the manufacturers' profits and numbers has little to do with it.

Toyota would be happy to sell as many Tundra's as Ford sells F-150s targeting the same audience.

Apples for Apples comparison is great, unless you are considering alternative vehicle types, ie pickup vs SUV vs CUV for a vehicle. I have made that comparison before I bought my last vehicle.

Hey MaXx,

You are right, they seldom require parts. They are a few Toyota (old and new) pickups here in my town and have been running strong. My problem with my '05 Dodge Ram 1500 was the stock upper control arms, so I went to HD aftermarket upper control arms and they outlast the stock OE's far much better. If Toyota made a Limited Slip differential, I would seriously consider buying a Tundra. Right now I like my Hemi engine for the power and for what I use it for. All truck manufacturers have their pros and cons, just like every other item produced in this world.

Thats right they all have thier pros and cons, for me its that the Ram to little legroom in the front seats, the Turndra allows me to stretch out like in the Ford.

What I can't figure out is why alot of people on this site keeps bashing a manufacturer. If it wasn't for the Big 3, Toyota, Nissan, etc. no one would be working. All these manufacturers create employment and help improve the local economies in their respective communities. I read die hard GM/Chevy guys bashing Ford's or Ram's and visa versa. It just makes me laugh at how shallow some posts can be on this site. Too me, I don't care what the next person drives, as long as it makes them happy.

What I'd like see on these posts is our (consumers) recommendations for improvement, design changes, etc. Let's be proactive and help these manufacturers develop better trucks. Afterall we drive them everyday. Even though I have a '05 Dodge Ram 1500 4x4, I would like to make suggestions as to further improvements to futre designs.

Just to give you guys some info on where I am from: I live in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut Canada which is located on the southeastern tip of Victoria Island, where it's minus 34 celsius right now.

Nice article. It explained to me Toyota's perspective on their status in the truck market.

The Tundra is a very good truck. I love mine. I do however, truly wish it got more MPGs. On the highway..20mpg. not so bad. But around town it just goes down ...way down. Driving in snow this past week, some in 4 Wheel drive (high range) it has gone down to 9.8(!) And that is with no load except the snow in the bed.

They need to do something to up their game.

This is a nice truck. Better than the new Silverado for sure and maybe even the Ram when it comes to quality. Luxury as well. Chevrolet is still to cheap to build a mega high quality, high luxury truck. (Thanks GM/GMC). Wait, NO thanks. Add to it, the Toyota is Made in America. The Chevrolet and Dodge? Nope. Not on the popular models. Nothing but Mexico with low American parts content to boot. I can see Toyota and Dodge fighting it out for the #2 spot behind Ford. Maybe Toyota will even take On Ford. I see it happening daily. With Nissan too especially. Chevrolet is in the toilet.

@Mark Williams
I would like to thank PUTC for removing most of the duplicate posts.

If you want you can remove my non-Tundra related comments as well. The ones that were directed at the long term PUTC troll.

@The Real Lou and Derek Elias
Hopefully PUTC will carry on removing the posts that are intended to disrupt the site as well.

If PUTC has this approach the 'problem child' might find another home or go back to Allpar.






R.I.P. Christina Amphlett

I drove one and couldn't get so comfortable. Rode like a stagecoach. Has alot of nice features, but whats it matter if you dont like the ride? Or the gas mileage?

It was on top in 2007-2008, but that was then.

LOL, 20 mpg in a Tundra? Maybe @55 mph on a flat road, with the low rolling restance tires?

I drove a Ram and couldn't get so comfortable. Rode like a stagecoach. Has a lot poor features, but whats it matter if you dont like the ride? Or the gas mileage?

It was on top in 2009, but that was then.

LOL, 20 mpg in a Ram? Maybe @25 mph on a flat road, with the low rolling restance tires.

I want a Toyota!

With the redesigned truck selling well, Toyota will probably spend some money on it for 2015 to fix a few shortcomings. Better mileage and a few tweaks here and there are all it will take to make sales increase. I've looked at these trucks up close, and they appear to be very well built.

Good job Toyota!

My next Tacoma will be built at this wonderful plant that can build two different types of pickups on the same line!

@ AD

just so you know Toyota IS NOT in control of where you can or cannot buy a flex fuel 5.7. the dam government controls where they have to be and not allowed to be sold. you can get one you just have to get a dealer trade done. If no one will help you then let me know and i WILL. I CAN GET you one.

@Oxi - what's with the racist, liar, hatred comments? If you are going to change your name at least try to make more intelligent posts.

@ Mark Williams

I would like to thank you for your tireless efforts of constructing interesting, informative and non-biased articles about the pickup truck industry and everything related to it. I thoroughly enjoy reading the articles you and your staff out together as well as the photography. That's about were my positive views of this website end.

As soon as I scroll down to the comment section, I find myself growing more and more disgusted with the demeanor and completely unrelated, unnecessary, and pointless comments posted by people with nothing constructive or meaningful to say; only garbage and obsessively crushing other people's thoughts and viewpoints as they differ from their own. After seeing this on every single article I've read for the past year, I have 1 question to ask you: why does the comment section still exist on this website? It serves no purpose anymore other than for people to look immature, spew hate speech towards fellow bloggers, it does no justice for manufacturers who want to see if anyone has any nifty or clever ideas, and more importantly it really robs from the integrity of your website. Closing the comment section at this point can only make this website better.

Thank you for your time, and please continue the good work!

@expedition and the real Mike
The biggest difference between the Taco and Hilux is the frame on the Hilux if fully boxed.

I do think the next Taco will be fully boxed as it will probably be a Hilux based truck.

Also, fully boxed frames are lighter. A 'C' section requires a much more rigid single side wall.

I think the Great Wall pickup is similar to the Surf/Taco frame, since it is based on the Surf.

Heres a Q&A video on the 2014 Tundra if anyone is interested:

Automotive News is reporting that dealers are complaining they could sell more Tundra's and Tacoma's if they had more on their lots!

Reports indicate Toyota will be ramping up production to meet this demand in Texas!

@Shop Cat - a secure log in process is what is required. It would reduce the fake posting and make it easier to delete or ban idiots.

looks like the trolls are quick to copy my post and put my name, and try to slam Ram.

Well anyway, if you read the last shootout and the 30k$ shootout before that, you would see the Ram gets alot better mileage.

As for the towing mileage, most these tests they do on fairly flat ground, but we can't seem to get a tester (a driver in one of these shootouts) that will take the truck OUT OF TOW HAUL on flat ground.) The rest of the trucks tow in top gear, there is your towing mileage. The tow haul is NOT NEEDED then, but the testers can't figure it out.

I am guessing the GM twins are like Ram, the four cylinder mode can come on at anytime while in top gear. Believe or not, the 4 cylinder mode comes on quite a bit in a Ram even when towing heavy, on flat or light hills.

The last shootout you can look down the towing mileage and notice the best 2 (the twins) are towing in 6th gear .67 x3.42 and the final ratio is the lowest, and pretty much the order of lowest to highest, the Ram 3.55x .84 is lower (numerically higher combo) then even the Tundra with 4.30, but in drive.

Get to towing with those GM twins, in drive and 3.42s, somewhere hilly. it wont be in top gear much. it'll hunt like a hound dog.

As for who ever copied my post and changed the wording to Ram, sounds like he or she is stuck with a 8th grade mentallity.

I actually looked at Tundras quite a bit before buying a 2010 Ram. The Ram ride is far smoother, the guages and evic much better in the Ram. Of course, the Ram looks better in my opinion.

I do think the Tundra 6 speed is well thought out, it beats the Gm, Ford. andRam 6 speeds, not an eight speed.

But no 8 speeds in 2010, I sure wasn't gonna buy for the Tundra trans. so I would be stuck with the ride (or lack of driver knowledge due to poor Tundra gauges.

The Tundra tries to sell as a truck with more ground clearance, thats true at the front where it really has no air dam, but after that, it is low slung. I can remove an air dam.

Oh, and as far as the 20 mpg comment at 25 mph comment, made by the 8th grader that posted in my name, I got 19-20 @65 mph in the hills of southwest Missouri/ northwest Arkansas, 4x4, quad cab, hemi, 3.92 gears, and much heavier tire then these Tindra Bridgestone and Michelin low rolling resistance tires.

The 8 speed 3.55 combo will beat that, and tow whatever I need towed better.

Of course, if I really want to beat it, I throw in a few grand and diesel up, with 3.55s, or probably even 3.21

As for who ever copied my post and changed the wording to Tundra, sounds like he or she is stuck with a 8th grade mentallity.

I actually looked at Tundras quite a bit before mistankely buying a 2010 Ram. The Tundra ride is far smoother, the guages and evic much better in the Tundra. Of course, the Tundra looks better in my opinion.

I do think the Tundra 6 speed is well thought out, it beats the Gm, Ford. and Ram 6 speeds, and is not an eight speed in the Ram that was recently recalled for failure.

But no 8 speeds in 2010, thank god, I sure wish I had bought the Tundra trans. so I am stuck with the squishy Ram ride (or lack of driver knowledge due to poor Ram gauges.

The Ram tries to sell a truck with more ground clearance, but after the air bags blow, it is low slung. I can't remove an air bag.

"but some industry naysayers suspected full-size and midsize trucks could not coexist on the same production line. It had never been done before."

Actually Warren Truck built the Ram 1500 and the Dakota on the same assembly line. Long before the Toyota plant ever had ever broke ground.

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