Over the past 20 years, the Land Cruiser has been Toyota’s biggest mistake. Today let’s pretend we know better than the marketing team of Toyota by having a look at what they’ve done wrong and why sales in markets like the US have plummeted. To understand this, we need to go back to the 1950 and 60s.
A Brief History of the Land Cruiser
In 1951, Toyota Produced the Toyota BJ for use by the National Police Reserve. It had four-wheel drive and a 3.4-liter six-cylinder gasoline engine. Although the Toyota was more powerful, the Police reserve chose to use the Mitsubishi Jeep Instead. This was a licensed production version of the North American Willys Jeep. Toyota states that this happened due to the Jeep’s extensive track record.
Since the BJ didn’t work as a service vehicle, in 1953 it was converted for civilian use and was sold to the public with great success. As the years progressed and during the rise of Japan, the BJ became the BJ20, then the FJ40, FJ55, FJ60, FJ80, and finally, it all fell apart.
The Problem with the New Models
The 100 Series Land Cruiser completely shifted the model from being a truck of the people, workers, and even recreational off-roaders to something only someone with a hefty wallet could afford. Even worse, it lost most of the factors that made it so good off-road. It was big, heavy, and attributes like approach, departure, and break-over angles were completely lost. It was now a luxury 4×4 and here is exactly where Toyota went wrong
Many may think that the above statement is coming from a lover of off-roading who wants his solid axles back. Not really, we still have a couple of solid axle vehicles on the market. The issue with the Land Cruiser becoming luxurious is one of social image.
People who have the funds to afford a $100,000 SUV in most cases go for a Range Rover, or a Mercedes, or BMW, or even a Bentley or Rolls Royce. Why? Well, because they showcase a certain image. They have the Rolls-Royce or Range Rover badge and that makes them feel good. Those who buy SUVs in this price range do not want their car to say Toyota on it. It’s just the way the mind works. Very few people (me included) would buy a luxury SUV and go for the Land Cruiser. The purpose its nameplate serves does not fit the market it is sold in.
Why the Old-School Four-Wheel-Drives Do So Well
This is why the Jeep Wrangler or the old Defender do so well. They have never deviated from the routes. A 2022 Jeep Wrangler still looks like the first ever Willys Jeep and underneath it shares a similar base. It features solid axles with a lot of articulation, diff locks, and immensely cool looks. Therefore, it provides the image people who love the outdoors want to share.
The same is true for the Defender. Until 2015, it was essentially the same vehicle as the ones made in the 80s but with a more refined engine and some added comforts. Ford also did the same with the new Bronco. They modernized an old classic and the results are great. The media has gone crazy over it and people are buying it.
2021 Ford Bronco
These brands never tried to sell the bare-bones work model to the luxury market. Instead, they came up with different cars like the Grand Wagoneer or the Range Rover.
The Land Cruiser Needs a Complete Redesign
The current Land Cruiser should have been completely redesigned and renamed into a Lexus model. Underneath it should have ditched the solid axle to focus on great ride quality and luxury amenities for the interior. The current Land Cruiser should be redesigned into something closer to the 4Runner. However, to compete with the Jeep it will need a solid front axle, diff locks, and large tires from the factory. If not, a clever independent suspension like the one on the Bronco may also work (it won’t be as strong as the Wrangler though)
Yes, the Land Cruiser, in markets like Africa and Australia still sells well. However, these areas also get the 70 Series variant which is a bare-bones old-school Land Cruiser. It has solid axles, two diff locks, and the interior is as simple as it gets. This may be the most reliable vehicle one can currently buy brand new. With a change to a coil sprung rear end, upgrades to the interior, and some styling changes to fit the “lifestyle” niche the 70 would sell like crazy in the U.S. After all, the popularity of activities like off-roading and overlanding is through the roof right now.
If Toyota manages to blend its incredible build quality with the old-school attributes of the early Land Cruiser like Jeep does with the Wrangler, it will be an instant winner. Imagine a modernized FJ40, but not like the FJ Cruiser. It needs to be squarer and more capable off-road. This would reignite the interest in the vehicle. But, sadly, Toyota is way too conservative.
The Land Cruiser is a great vehicle. We are by no means suggesting that it isn’t. They are extremely well built and engineered and to this date, it remains one of the most reliable vehicles on earth. However, the new ones have an identity crisis and this needs to be changed if Toyota wants to bring back the model’s sales numbers.