Ever been on an overseas trip, say, to Australia, and watched a sweet 4WD Mazda or Mitsubishi or Toyota Hilux pickup roll by, all muddled-up and snorkled, and thought, “Why the hell can’t I get that little truck in the US?” Or maybe you dipped your toe into the mid-size pickup market, only to realize the frustration of being stuck with a Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Frontier, or the Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon twins? We can buy about seven hundred different crossovers in the US, but just three mid-size trucks? What’s up with that? And while we’re at it, what happened to the tough little compact 4x4s and 2WD pickups of yesteryear?
The Chicken Tax happened; that’s what. A bizarre, 50-year-old tariff is why we’re mostly stuck with absurdly big full-sized trucks in the States. And the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which the Trump administration just torpedoed, would have put an end to the Chicken Tax, finally opening the borders to a variety of pint-sized off-road trucks.
It’s kind of a weird story why, but here we go.
Back in the early 1960s, Europeans became highly annoyed by the furious pace at which American poultry farmers churned out and exported chickens. Post-war Europe loved them some chicken but hard as they tried they just couldn’t compete with Big Poultry here in the good ole’ US of A. There were accusations of impropriety on the international chicken market. Shit got serious. Eventually, France and West Germany slapped a tariff on American chicken. In 1963, President Lyndon B. Johnson retaliated by imposing a 25 per cent (!) tariff on imported light trucks, brandy, potato starch, and dextrin. This became known as the Chicken Tax. Could just as easily have been called the Dextrin Tax, I suppose, but that’s not nearly as catchy. Or absurd.
Ever since it’s cost a ton for foreign automakers to export light trucks to the United States, the number of batshit workarounds this has provided is comical. Remember the tiny, awesome Subaru BRAT and its open-air seats in the bed? The seats were there just to sell the thing as a passenger car and not a truck. There’s one example. A bigger workaround is that companies like Toyota and Nissan build truck factories in the US just to avoid paying the tariff while still being able to sell trucks to us god-fearing Americans.
“But,” I hear you saying, “that still doesn’t explain why domestic truck makers, and their Japanese rivals for that matter, don’t make smaller trucks, does it?”
Well, yeah it does, actually.
The Chicken Tax completely took competition out of the equation. The domestic truck makers can thumb their noses all day long at experimentation or innovation: People buy Ford F-150s as if their lives depended on it. In 2015, Ford sold more than 1,900 F-150s per day. Sure, Ford’ll tinker a bit, but they have no real reason to sell a smaller truck (though they’ve announced they’re finally bringing back the Ranger in 2020). And Toyota and Nissan can play around with new designs in the European and Asian markets, but with no competition where they can do things like run out the same Tacomas from 2005-2015 or a practically unchanged Frontier from 2004-2017 (and counting).
History of the Hilux
The Toyota Hilux was first introduced in 1968 in Japan with a short wheelbase and a 1.9-litre engine that produced just 84hp. The truck came standard with a rear-wheel drive and four-speed manual transmission.
With the second generation produced in 1973 through 1974, Toyota gave the Hilux a longer wheelbase. It also came with a somewhat larger 2.0-litre engine, giving it the capability of reaching 109 horsepower.
During this time, the three-speed automatic model became popular in Japan. The new model with a 7.4-foot truck bed was introduced in the US, as simply “The Truck.”
Toyota offered the third generation Hilux from 1975 to 1978, growing even larger but not in power. The third-generation Hilux had a 2.2-litre engine but produced only 97 horsepower due to the increase in weight and body size.
This model came with an optional five-speed manual transmission. Towards the end of 1977, Toyota reached the millionth sale of the truck, making a name for the company with the compact truck segment.
Production of the fourth generation, from 1979 until 1983, brought the option of a 4WD version and the company’s L Series diesel engine in 1979 on 2WD models. Toyota also made changes in the design, including a solid front axle, leaf suspension, and single round headlights.
The limited-edition Mojave model featured bucket seats, chrome bumpers, and a two-speaker radio. It also had a 2.4-litre engine, capable of 97 horsepower.
Toyota released the fifth generation Hilux in 1984 and continued the model through 1988. This generation brought more changes such as the 2.4-litre engine and a new fuel-injected 2.4 litre capable of 105 horsepower.
Buyers also had the choice between a 2.4 litre and turbocharged 2.4-litre engine. This generation brought an end to the four-speed manual. It was replaced with a choice of three or four-speed automatic transmissions.
In 1984, Toyota also introduced a 4×4 known as the Hilux Surf. This led to the division of the Hilux Surf and 4Runner, continuing on as a fully enclosed mid-sized 4×4.
The sixth-generation Hilux was produced from 1989 until 1994. This model began using the 3.0-litre V-6 engine and the company’s award-winning Xtracab SR5.
The award as Motor Trend’s 1989 “Truck of the Year” was the first of many for the Hilux. This version also had a longer wheelbase. During 1991, production of the US model, the Tacoma, was moved to the Toyota plant in California.
It wasn’t until 2005 that the seventh generation Hilux was introduced. It included a much different engine line-up; the 2.7 litres and 3.0-litre turbo diesel, with the latter being the most capable for off-road and more energy-efficient on the highway.
An even more powerful 4.0 litre V6 was also available, which included similar fuel consumption like that of the 2.7 litre i4.
Today, the new Hilux features smaller 2.4 and 2.8-liter turbo diesel as well as a 2.7-litre i4. The 2.4 and 2.7-liter engines are available with a 6-speed automatic or manual. The bigger diesel only comes with a 6-speed automatic.
The New Toyota Hilux: Don’t Call it a Tacoma
Toyota hasn’t always been the top name for pickups in the USA, but the Tacoma has its legions of fans in the States. The rest of the world, however, gets the Toyota Hilux, a legendary truck first introduced in 1968.
The Hilux truck has gained a new design that includes an updated interior and better-towing capabilities. These features alone help bridge the gap between a pleasure truck and dedicated work vehicles.
The average truck driver in America has also changed over the years. They want the strength and power of a big truck to tow or haul large loads. At the same time, they want luxury features that make driving more comfortable, safe, and enjoyable.
The issue of fuel-efficiency also comes into play when purchasing a new vehicle. Until the most advanced technology came into play, the trade-off between power and energy-efficiency made choosing the perfect pickup more challenging in the US.
But around the world, the new features of the Toyota Hilux are only solidifying its place as a go-to option for pickup truck drivers.
Introduced in the late ’60s, the Hilux was a staple of America for about 20 years, according to Toyota of Orlando. The Hilux during these years were the same trucks that were popularly sold around the world. Hiluxes were so tough and reliable that it was called the world’s most indestructible cars, according to Forbes.
The Hilux was a small, dependable, and versatile truck. It was used by almost anyone, and it could be used for almost anything, according to WhichCar. Millions of Hilux were sold in this timespan, and the Hilux became one of the most popular cars in places like America and Australia. The Hilux was also beloved in other parts of the world, from South America to Europe, and from Africa to Asia.
However, that’s when the trouble started brewing for Toyota in America.
Rules and regulations
In the ’80s, the government introduced a new law that made it harder to import new cars from abroad. Furthermore, in the ’60s, a tax called the Chicken Tax added a 25% tax to light-duty trucks, which the Hilux was. To get around these laws, Toyota started making cars in the US, as that would avoid those regulations.
Another way that Toyota did that was by partnering with American automakers, like Winnebago. According to Toyota of Orlando, this was what allowed Toyota to break into the SUV market of America. This was also how Toyota created the successful 4Runner SUV. On top of that, though, the 4Runner’s success showed Toyota that the future of Toyota in the US was making cars in America, for Americans.
And that’s why Toyota start making the Tacoma in America as a compact pickup truck to replace the Hilux. The two models are very similar in form and in function. The differences are that the Tacoma allows Toyota to get around the rules and regulations that the Hilux couldn’t get around.
Furthermore, according to The Drive, the Hilux, because it’s been away from American markets for so long, doesn’t conform to American emissions and safety standards anymore. Toyota could create an American Hilux that’s made in America and that meets American safety and emissions standards, but there’s one big reason why Toyota won’t do that.
Toyota wanted the Tacoma to replace the Hilux in America, and the Tacoma just does that too well. The Tacoma was extremely similar to the Hilux when the Tacoma was first introduced, but since then, the Tacoma and the Hilux have become very different trucks. Most of these differences come from Toyota reading the pulse of America and changing the Tacoma accordingly.
For example, the Tacoma isn’t available as a single cab pickup truck, whereas around the world, that option still exists for the Hilux. That’s large because Americans are turned off to the idea of single cab pickups, so Toyota had no reason to continue making the single cab Tacoma for America.
Another issue is that changing the Hilux and everything else in the American manufacturing process to build the Hilux for America wouldn’t be cheap. And, if Toyota sells the Hilux in the US, then the Hilux could end up stealing some of the Tacoma’s sales. For those reasons, Toyota’s likely going to continue focusing on improving the Tacoma rather than working on getting the Hilux over to American dealerships.
Will the Toyota Hilux Soon Be Back in the United States?
The Toyota Hilux has a reputation as an essentially indestructible mid-size pickup truck. If you’ve seen those “Killing a Toyota” Top Gear episodes, then you know what I’m talking about. Whether you’re an off-road enthusiast or someone who’s in need of a really solid commercial vehicle, the Hilux sounds more than just a little bit appealing. With that in mind, it’s a real shame they stopped selling the Hilux in the United States.
That’s right, while the Hilux was sold in North America from the mid-’70s until the mid-’90s, it was replaced by the Toyota Tacoma in 1995 and hasn’t been available in America since. But, according to some reports, the long unobtainable Toyota pickup may soon be coming back to US markets.
Not too much information is available right now, but as Autowise points out, a Hilux model packing a third-generation Toyota turbo diesel engine may be sold in the USA as early as 2020. As far as horsepower and torque goes, initial reports claim that “the engines will offer overall improvements in efficiency and power.” Are we getting our hopes up? Not entirely, because you know how this whole “initial reports” thing can go. That said, it would be extremely cool to see the formidable Hilux for sale in US dealerships this time next year.