GM exec impressed by Toyota pickup

GM Vice Chairman Lutz, the exec in charge of GM product development, praises Toyota's new Tundra pickup but says it will hurt Nissan more than GM.

By Chris Isidore, senior writer

DETROIT ( -- The new Toyota Tundra, the Japanese automaker's first entry into the full-size pickup market dominated by U.S. automakers, got a positive review from an interesting source Tuesday: General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, who heads the automakers' product development efforts.

Lutz, meeting with reporters at the North American International Auto Show, said he was impressed with the new Tundra, which is on display at the show and is now hitting dealer showrooms, and that he has no doubt that Toyota (Charts) will meet its sales target of 200,000 of the vehicles a year.

The new Toyota Tundra.
The new Toyota Tundra.
GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz
GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz
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"I took a good look at it today," Lutz said. "I think it's a very, very, very well executed large truck. It's got good styling, great interior. It's a very nice truck."

Toyota has had a pickup under the Tundra brand name since the 1990s, but the truck had never been considered part of the full-size market by U.S. industry standards.

The new Tundra clearly is part of that market and is a competitor to the new GMT 900 series pickup trucks, such as the Chevrolet Silverado, which debuted last fall, as well as to the Ford F-Series pickup, which is the best-selling U.S. vehicle.

But Lutz said that he believes the new Tundra poses more of a challenge to Japanese automaker Nissan (Charts), which introduced the Titan full-size pickup in December 2003, than it does to GM, Ford Motor (Charts) or DaimlerChrysler. (Charts)

"My theory is there's a lot of interaction within Japanese brands," Lutz said. "My personal belief is that the other full-size Japanese pickup truck is going to get severely dented in this process.

"Tundra has always had 100,000 to 125,000 sales. So they're going to get 75,000 extra," Lutz continued. "Of that 75,000 extra, I think Nissan is going to be the major furnisher of numbers. That's going to leave 30-40,000 to be split between Dodge, Ford and ourselves. To be honest, I don't think we'll feel it."

Nissan spokeswoman Katherine Zachary said that Nissan is not overly concerned about the Tundra hitting Titan sales.

"We think it might create more market acceptability," she said. "It's been difficult pioneering the segment as the first Japanese offering there."

She said Nissan is bringing out more versions of the Titan in coming months and that while sales have been a bit below company forecasts, Nissan is satisfied with sales so far.

"We have about 8 percent share. That's more than our general market share," she said.

The new Tundra should hit dealer showrooms in mid-February, said Toyota spokesman Joe Tetherow. He confirmed that Toyota had set a sales target of 200,000 for 2007 and would not give an annual sales forecast beyond that. Tetherow said that besides Lutz, Ford Motor CEO Alan Mulally and Carlos Ghosn, the CEO of both Nissan and Renault, had both come by the Toyota display to look at the new Tundra during the last two days.

Lutz has a reputation for being outspoken, and sometimes outrageous, making statements that can stir up the industry and GM (Charts) dealers.

A couple of years ago, he stirred a hornets nest at the New York auto show when he referred to Buick and Pontiac as "damaged brands" and suggested that if they didn't get better, GM might need to drop one or more.

Tuesday, in response to a reporter's question, Lutz said he's confident that GM will not be dropping any brands. But when asked if he was ready to declare that Buick and Pontiac are no longer damaged, he would not give them or other GM brands a clean bill of health.

"Damage is such a negative term. But let us say, clearly neither General Motors nor any of General Motors' brands are in the minds of the American public where we believe we now deserve to be based on the excellence of our product. It's what I call the reputational whack."

He said until GM starts hearing from more customers that they are not shopping at competitors and coming to GM because of the quality of the product, "we have to tell ourselves, 'There's still a lot more work to do.'"

Asked how far GM was from that point, he responded, "I'd say we're at the end of the beginning."

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