Calling a spade, a shovel

The Japanese automaker put on quite the dog and pony show to convince the masses that the Tundra is, the most American vehicle in Toyota history.

You can’t blame them for trying. Toyota’s been toiling away recently, trying to convince the Pavlovian pickup faithful that its new full-size Tundra is essentially as North American as any hauler from GM, Ford or Dodge.

They make a compelling case. During their press conference at the Motown motor show, to launch the freighter-sized CrewMax model, the Japanese automaker put on quite the dog and pony show to convince the masses that the Tundra is, “the most American vehicle in Toyota history.”

Execs explained how, in a dramatic change from convention, “Every aspect of [the Tundra’s] development began and ended in the U.S.” Engineering and development was taken out of Asia and handed to Toyota’s team in Ann Arbor, Michigan; The styling was initiated in Newport Beach, California and finalized in the Great Lakes State; The engines are built in Alabama and the transmissions in North Carolina, with complete Tundra’s bolted together in Indiana and at Toyota’s new $850 million facility in San Antonio, Texas — pickup capital, USA — all to show buyers that the Tundra is as American as John Wayne eating apple pie on horseback.

But, will it work? Ultimately, is the Tundra still a Japanese vehicle? Similar quandaries are being batted around boardrooms and bars more frequently these days, as a growing number of automakers reach full stride in becoming truly ‘Global.’ Does the country where a vehicle is designed and built, or where it components come from, make it any less American, European or Asian?

Before we get to that, let’s not overlook the Americans. While Toyota’s wrapping itself in the stars and stripes, the Yanks are working to blur the definition of, “domestic,” too.

The Chrysler Group is a prime example. It’s owned by Mercedes-Benz, so there’s question right out of the gate whether it’s, “North American,” anyway. Then there’s the recent news that it’s inked a deal to have Chinese automaker, Chery, build a future Dodge compact.

There are existing examples too, like the 300 sedan et al which use a last generation E-Class platform as a base, the Crossfire — basically the old Benz SLK wrapped in American-penned sheetmetal — and let’s not forget the Dodge Caliber, which shares engines and platform with Mitsubishi and Hyundai.

For me, it comes down to the almighty dollar. It doesn’t matter where a vehicle’s built or designed, or what components it shares internationally — it’s where the pockets are filled at day’s end. The new Tundra is a Japanese truck, and always will be, until Toyota pulls up stakes and moves itself and its substantial vaults to America. For now, Aichi, Japan is where the truck’s bucks stop.

This isn’t a negative, though. Case in point, the Tundra now benefits from all that American pickup truck know-how, combined with Toyota’s established quality reputation — it’s the best of both worlds.

The Chrysler Group fits here too. Why not source from Mercedes-Benz? Having components in your vehicles — even ones a generation old — from one of the world’s leading luxury automakers can’t hurt. Neither can a relationship with Chery. A compact made cheaply offshore means a better sticker price here at home.

It’s a reality that, going forward, more and more of this cross-border, cross-brand sharing will ramp up. That’s why top brass execs blabber on increasingly these days about “brand identity,” and the like. Keeping their core values in place as these crossbred vehicles become more prevalent is increasingly essential — especially if the automakers want that almighty dollar to keep coming home.

Taken to an extreme, Jag’s today are Fords, a Roller is a BMW and a Lambo is an Audi. The thing is, each is better for it. Time will tell what effect the trend has on automotive jobs here in North America, not to mention the knee-jerk reaction from brand loyalists.

Would a driver faithful to American pickups consider a capable Toyota bred on his shores? Would a driver who swore off domestics buy a Dodge built in China? Only time will tell.

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