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New Tundra on the way

By Paris Goodnight

Salisbury Post

With Toyota looking at a Rowan County site for part of its racing operation, the company is also bumping up its links to NASCAR with the unveiling of a new and improved (that is bigger and more powerful) Toyota Tundra.

On Monday, the full facts and figures on the truck will be released, but Toyota has spent a lot of effort (money) in getting the word out earlier. In December, the company held the 2007 Toyota Tundra East Coast Press Introduction event in Charlotte at the Lodge at Ballantyne Resort. All details from that event on things like horsepower and pictures of the new CrewMax edition were embargoed until Monday, though other information has been coming out over the past few months as Toyota ramps up production.

Most of those involved with the Charlotte event were with magazines, auto Web sites and newspapers like the Atlanta Journal-Constitution or USA Today. A Post reporter went along to drive new trucks lined up for the media types, who were just as likely to be driving the latest BMW one week and then have use of a Jaguar as a loaner the next week.

With Toyota going full blast in Nextel Cup racing this year, officials want to highlight as much as possible the link to NASCAR, especially when trying to sell trucks in this area.

In announcing the new truck to the group, the first welcome was to “Charlotte, the NASCAR capital of the world” and Lowe’s Motor Speedway, “the Taj Mahal of stock car racing.”

Because Toyota officials know a lot of pickup truck drivers show up at races, they want to make sure potential buyers know the focus on Nextel Cup races isn’t just to sell their cars but also trucks, which they have had on the Craftsman racing series since 2004.

Toyota spent the last year promoting the new Tundra at shows like one in Detroit, after which Automobile Magazine said, “It’s no secret that Toyota has been making a substantial effort of late to appear more American. Its recent entries into the premier leagues of good-ole-boy racing- — first the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and, more recently, the NASCAR Nextel Cup — attest quite loudly to that.”

But that publication noted that racing can only get you so far with American consumers, some of whom don’t even watch NASCAR or any of its subseries.

Ernest Bastien, vice president of the Toyota vehicle operations group, told those gathered in Charlotte that while NASCAR is important to the marketing efforts, the Tundra also is “the most American new product launch in Toyota history,” with design, testing and manufacturing coming together in pieces from at least seven states.

Toyota has built Tundras in Indiana since 1998 and will assemble more of them at a $1.3 billion facility in San Antonio, Texas, which can churn out 200,000 each year. The Indiana plant produces more than 100,000 Tundras annually.

Bastien said as more people buy Tundras, the fleet of rental trucks available will grow because the customer they’re targeting couldn’t use a sedan as a substitute during a regular workday if their truck needed service.

Michael O’Brien, corporate manager for product planning, noted many of the new features available, such as a six-speed transmission, a rear backup camera (so you can hitch your boat by yourself) and wireless air pressure gauges that let you know if your tires are below 75 percent of where they’re supposed to be.

The four-door CrewMax will officially be unveiled today at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, with details like pricing and miles per gallon figures on each of the 31 model configurations also available. Streaming video from today’s event is also planned to be available at www.toyota.com.

Contact Paris Goodnight at 704-797-4255 or pgoodnight@ salisburypost.com.

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