The Japanese Toyota brand has always been synonymous with quality and reliability. Covering just about every vehicle category in North America, Toyota offers a full range of cars, trucks, SUVs, crossovers, pickups and a minivan. The company also built a strong reputation of environmental friendliness, although it has been criticized in the last few years for the blandness of their products as well as the lack of true performance models.
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It all started in the 1930s, when Kiichiro Toyoda decided to follow his passion for the automobile and create some of his own. His first car and pickup truck appeared in 1935, and the Toyota Motor Co. was officially founded in 1937.
The first Toyota arrived in the U.S. in 1957, but the brand’s launch was a failure. The Toyopet Crown had a laughable name and was underpowered for the highways of America, so virtually nobody bought them. The Toyopet got the boot in 1960, to return only a few years later after a redesign. The smaller Tiara and Land Cruiser off-roader were still available in the U.S.
In 1965, Toyota presented the 2000GT sports car at the Tokyo Auto Show, a car that has become one of the most heralded models in the brand’s history. It was produced from 1967 to 1970.
In the meantime, new models appeared such as the Crown, the Corona, the Corona Mark II and the Pickup, while production topped 1 million units for the first time in the brand’s history. The Corolla was launched in North America in 1969, which went on to become the bestselling nameplate in automotive history. The Carina and Celica sports cars introduced in the ‘70s, while the Cressida replaced the Corona Mark II.
Toyota sales exploded in the 1980s as many new models were introduced and the brand was becoming renowned for its bulletproof products. Then came the Tercel and Starlet subcompacts, the rear-drive Corolla FX hatchback and sporty GT-S, the Van people-mover, the 4Runner sport-utility, the Supra and MR2 sports cars and the mid-size Camry (replacing the Corona).
The ‘90s also brought the Paseo subcompact coupe, the RAV4 compact sport-utility and the full-size T100 pickup, while the full-size Avalon replaced the Cressida, the Previa replaced the Van and the Sienna eventually replaced the Previa, while the compact Pickup was renamed Tacoma. A coupe version of the Camry called the Solara also appeared in 1999.
The Echo filled in for the Tercel in 2000, and a new milestone was achieved by Toyota in 2001 with the introduction of the Prius gas-electric hybrid. Also released were the Matrix compact hatchback, the Highlander crossover, the FJ Cruiser and Sequoia SUVs, the MR Spyder sports car, the Yaris (replacing the Echo), the Tundra (replacing the T100) and the Venza crossover. The 2007 calendar year was an absolute high for the company, with just under 9.5 million units produced.
Today, Toyota’s line-up also consists of the subcompact Yaris hatchback and sedan, the compact Corolla and Matrix, the mid-size Camry and Camry Hybrid, the Prius, the full-size Avalon, the Sienna minivan, the Venza, Highlander and Highlander Hybrid crossovers, the RAV4, 4Runner, FJ Cruiser and Sequoia sport-utility vehicles as well as the Tacoma and Tundra pickup trucks.
The 2013 Toyota RAV4 is one of the latest entrants in the hotly contested compact crossover segment. If I blur the lines slightly, and blend compact and midsize CUVs, they accounted for 6 out 20 of the bestselling vehicles in Canada for 2012. These things are big business.
But then, what about across the brands? Sure, a Lexus is a luxury car, but is it really worth the $8,000 to $12,000 extra? What about when two models share 100% of their mechanicals, and equipment levels are nearly identical? We set out to find out where the $10k or so lies between the always esteemed Lexus RX450h and the underappreciated Toyota Highlander Hybrid.
An updated Toyota Tundra pickup hits the market for the 2014 model year, meaning the second-generation 2007 to 2013 model has transitioned fully into used-truck territory.
The world-famous Pikes Peak International Hill Climb (June 25-30, 2013) will once again feature electric cars.