Tuesday, February 6, 2024

"Basic Transportation Perfection" - but we can't buy it in the USA


I note that Toyota is introducing (overseas) its IMV 0, a bare-basics no-frills vehicle designed for simplicity, economy, and the toughness necessary to succeed in Third World markets, where road quality is often conspicuous by its absence and maintenance may be a shade-tree-mechanic affair.

Compared to the features of the Corolla sedan, Toyota’s entry-level model in the United States, the IMV 0 is in an entirely different universe. Forget LED headlights, power windows and door locks, or standard adaptive cruise control. The IMV 0 doesn’t even have any trim on the A-pillar. The instrument cluster dial that would normally show engine RPM is just a big blank circle. It doesn’t even have a shift light. Then again, the 2024 Corolla starts at $22,995. The IMV 0/Hilux Champ will be the equivalent of about $10,000 when it launches in Thailand.

And no, there are no plans to sell this truck in the United States, although it will be sold in Mexico. It’s nice to think that a bare-bones truck at a rock-bottom price could find a customer base in America, but that’s unlikely to sway Toyota, which is only making the thinnest of margins on the base model. And besides, a big reason we don’t already get these cheap foreign-market trucks is because importing them from North America comes with the 25 percent “Chicken Tax” tariff. Add in the cost of stability control, lane-keeping, automatic emergency braking included in the Toyota Safety Sense suite that is nearly standard across the U.S. lineup and it’s easy to see the price ballooning into Ford Maverick territory. That’s for a truck that doesn’t even have map pockets in the doors.

. . .

The closest equivalent to the interior of the IMV 0 we have in the United States is probably a rental moving van. Vinyl seats, rubber-lined floor, and a trio of HVAC controls under the hole where a radio might go. For this truck’s Southeast Asia and South American markets, less stuff also means less stuff to break. On the smooth surface of Toyota’s oval track, the IMV 0 feels slightly bouncy with nothing to settle the rear leaf springs. The steering is light, and the gear shifter is somewhat rubbery. The IMV 0 feels more rugged than cheap, the kind of vehicle that can stand up to the daily abuse of hauling cargo on under-developed roads. Acceleration is best described as present and accounted for - on our brief lap around the test track it was hard to tell exactly how slow or fast the IMV 0 is. But we’re not sure it even matters. There’s an innate appeal to the simplicity of the IMV 0, the singular focus of hauling people and stuff from point A to point B. They don’t ask you how, they ask you how many. And to that, the IMV 0 seems like a truck that gets the job done, one way or another.

There's more at the link.

I've driven untold thousands of miles in vehicles similar to this.  For example, back in the early 1980's, Toyota in South Africa introduced what it called the Toyota Utility Vehicle, or TUV.  It looked similar to, and was based on, the second-generation Kijang/Tamaraw utility vehicle marketed in Asia, pictured below.  (Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

It was a boxy, squared-off 2-seat pickup-type vehicle with no creature comforts.  A 10-seater minibus version was later sold as well (and, when fully loaded, had one of the most bone-rattling suspensions I've ever had the misfortune to endure!).  It had a very basic 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine, a four-on-the-floor manual transmission (with a clutch that made interesting noises if you weren't careful with it), and just about nothing else.  Nevertheless, it sold well to motorists who couldn't afford anything better, and did the job for them.  I recall them without any affection, but with a nod for their reliability - they always got me where I needed to be.  Other manufacturers tried to compete with more-or-less stripped-down versions of basic pickup trucks, but none were as low-cost or as successful as the TUV.

None of these basic vehicles would pass current US safety regulations, and would lack just about every comfort to which US drivers have become accustomed;  but they work, and they get untold millions of people around the world where they need to be every day, and back again.  Given the current prices of US vehicles, you could probably buy two of the IMV 0 for one of even the cheapest vehicles currently sold here;  three or four for the price of a typical American pickup truck.  They'd get more done, and be far better value for money.

(Oh - and let's scrap the "chicken tax" while we're at it.  Why should American taxpayers subsidize the Big Three and their oversized, unnecessarily tricked-out pickups when much cheaper alternatives are out there, if only we could get them?  I wonder how much the Big Three are paying our politicians in "re-election contributions" or "consulting fees" to have them keep the tax in place?)



Paul M said...

"Follow the money" part deux.

Anonymous said...

My nearly-daily-driver is a 1927 Model T Ford runabout. I removed the trunk and installed a small homemade wooden pickup bed. The thing is so simple to work on… it’s basically a buggy with a motor. I’ve made enough “period correct“ modifications to it that it’s relatively safe and comfortable to drive year-round on most modern roads, though I’d never take it on any interstate. It always starts and gets me to where I need to go. Granted, I live in a small northeast Ohio town, but it works for me. The Model T Ford is a dependable, incredibly rugged, and nearly off-road vehicle, and inexpensive to work on, though it does require regular maintenance. No big deal.

I put the vehicle together for a few thousand dollars from a big box of Model T parts, basically. Miles per gallon is in the mid 20s, and it’ll run on anything, from the cheapest gas you can find to moonshine or kerosene or lamp oil, though I prefer to focus on smiles per gallon, and there’s tons of those. I can’t go anywhere without somebody asking me where they can get one.

nick flandrey said...

It's not the tax that keeps them out, it's regulatory capture. EPA and CAFE standards drive most of the design decisions, with safety following along.

Someone with more insider knowledge, it's been years since I worked with automakers, could probably provide a better estimate, but I'd SWAG that 70-80 % of the increase in cost is because of mandates.

The "luxury" stuff just rides along. Power locks, for example, are used to keep the doors shut in a rollover accident, which is why they engage automatically. That they are convenient is an added bonus. Expensive and exotic materials are used to reduce weight, in the quest for better mileage. Same for fuel injection, variable cam timing, computer controls for engine functions, automatic transmissions with computer controlled shift points...

Some models save on the weight of WIRE by using CANBUS to tell lights to turn on and off, rather than just switching voltage to the bulb. (that's using a data bus to talk to semi-intelligent devices, rather than relays and switches.)

Then there are the invisible safety features, side impact bars in doors (because the lightweight door won't protect you), the "Nader pin" which holds doors closed, a structural pipe in the dashboard that gives rescuers something to push against when the whole cabin folds up around the occupant, collapsible steering column, etc.

Some of the safety features have triggered a cascade of "fixes" to the problems they cause. Airbags, for example. They were injuring people. So sensors were put in place to determine if there were people in the seats, how much they weighed, a key switch was provided to turn OFF passenger seat airbags so you don't kill an infant in a car seat. Then two stage airbags were introduced. Some people sit too close to the steering wheel (women in particular) so Ford added adjustable pedals and steering column, again so that the airbag doesn't hurt you. Since the pedals won't fit in every model, seat belt "pre-tensioners" are used. That's an explosive piston that forcefully retracts the seat belt to yank you upright and away from the airbag- to minimize the damage it does to you.

Other safety systems have similar chains of consequences. Child seats needed rated attachment points...

Smaller back windows mean you need a camera to see what's behind your vehicle. Shorter side windows and placement of pillars (which might be determined by airbag placement) means you can't see out, so lane occupancy sensors, approaching vehicle sensors, and bumper distance sensors are installed. Computers and displays are needed to use those devices- so why not add the GPS and radio to the "Infortaiment" system?

Side mirrors have motors, heaters, turn indicators, sensors, cameras, and blind spot indicators, as well as "puddle lights" to illuminate where you are stepping.........all mandated or the knock on result of mandates.

The list goes on and on, and one of the "features" of the setup from the manufacturer's point of view, is the barrier to entry to market that all those mandates and systems and institutionalized knowledge represent.

And as far as the "Big Three" are concerned, Ford is #5 in the world, with GM at number 6. What's left of Chrysler is part of number three in the world, Stellantis, and not even headquartered in the US anymore.

I always found it puzzling that the US automakers had such a large place in the worldview of the news and what was reported. The UAW would furlough 500 people and it would be national news. NASA would cancel a program and 50K people would be laid off with barely a mention. Automakers aren't even in the top 10 industries by revenue in the US, although new car dealers come in at #6...

For now, we'll have to use older vehicles, or the (increasingly expensive) utility vehicles like the Gator, and other UTV side by sides...


Gerry said...

+1 for Nick

EPA and Safety standards prevent the importation of a number of vehicles into the USA.

BTW My bare bones Ford Ranger cerca 1985 was purchased by a broker and sent to Columbia. There was quite a market for small used pickups and vans in Central and South America.

Ed Bonderenka said...

Well said, Nick.
Many years ago, I worked in the Body Shop at Willow Run assembly as a weld engineer.
We got a thank you letter from a Caprice customer that had hit a dump truck someone had abandoned in the middle of the highway at night at 65mph. With pictures.
Front end crumpled, hood buckled, engine and trans went under the firewall.
He opened the door and stepped out.

MrLiberty said...

The word "free" is just thrown around about America to keep the gullible sheep pacified. Indeed, if there were actually REAL FREEDOM in this country, we would be allowed to purchase and drive whatever we wanted, and tort law and liability judgements would do more to drive changes than paid off bureaucrats. We can point to this or that as the cause of the cost increased (and Nick did a great job), but ultimately it comes down to ALLOWING the government to have the POWER over every aspect of our lives, our economy, our money, our children, our future, our health, etc. Until THAT is removed, nothing fundamentally will EVER change. And ELECTIONS are not going to fix that problem.

Old NFO said...

Same reason we've never seen the Hilux here... sigh

Rob said...

Just something else that is not allowed in the Land Of The Free.

Matt said...

Just suppose....some Mexican guy buys one of these for $10K and titles it properly in Mexico, it has Mexican plates. Then they legally cross the bridge to El Paso, or wherever. It's their car, properly licensed and tagged, so they should be able to drive it while "visiting" the US (I'm asking???). Then they sell it for $12,000 to a US resident. Then they catch a ride back home buy another one and do it again a week later. Could this work?

Well Seasoned Fool said...

Mid 1980's when the "chicken tax" was imposed, Japanese manufacturers imported cab/chassis. The beds came from Korea and were installed in Seattle or Portland. Alas, the quality of the steel and paint of the beds was substandard.

Anonymous said...

1995 and older Japan built Toyota "pickups" are all hiluxes.

And I'm in the Austin Texas area and someone has a plated newish hilux driving around. 4runners are also all japan-built so hilux adjacent... Typically, hiluxes tend to be a generation behind the Tacoma insofar as frame, suspension, and drivetrains, but been about a decade since I last did an in-depth comparison.

Mark said...

"Same reason we've never seen the Hilux here... sigh"

If we could get the @&%$ government out of the way, diesel Hiluxes would sell like hotcakes. I'll take two, in 2WD, AC and manual 5-speed, please, with no electric anything else.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the answer is to do away with the stupid regs that prevent vehicles, like the IMV0, from being made/manufactured in these uSA because they are illegal on public roads.I