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Aerodynamics was a major focus in the development of the 2016 Toyota Tacoma, and it will become increasingly important for trucks in the future, according to Mike Sweers, Chief Engineer of the Tacoma and Tundra pickup trucks. (To view additional images, click the arrow at top right of this image.)

Toyota chief talks trucks

It’s been 10 years since the last all-new Toyota Tacoma, which isn’t unusual for a truck’s life cycle, according to Mike Sweers (SAE Member, 2002), Chief Engineer for the Tundra (since 2010) and Tacoma (since 2012) programs at Toyota Technical Center in Ann Arbor, MI. Trucks require “a lot more resources to develop” because of product variability: “If we take the 2016 Tacoma, we have an Access Cab and Double Cab, we’ve got two bed lengths [60.5 and 73.7 in], two wheelbases [127.4 and 140.6 in], and from a powertrain standpoint we developed a new [3.5-L direct injection Atkinson cycle V6] engine and two new transmissions [six-speed automatic and manual], so all that stuff takes time,” he said, adding that Toyota’s emphasis on QDR (quality, durability, and reliability) also contributes to development timing.

The new V6 with VVT-iW (variable valve timing with intelligent wider intake) is equipped with Toyota’s D-4S technology, featuring both direct and port fuel injection. The engine generates 278 hp (207 kW), an increase of 42 hp (31 kW) over the previous V6, and 265 lb·ft (359 N·m) of torque at 4600 rpm. Estimated city/highway/combined mpg for the 4x2 automatic is 19/24/21.

A few major achievements for the third-generation Tacoma program include a 12% overall drag reduction—“the largest reduction in Toyota truck history,” a 43% improvement in NVH, and a V6 tow package for towing up to 6800 lb (3085 kg) per SAE J2807—a 300-lb (136-kg) increase over the previous V6. Sweers spoke with Automotive Engineering at a recent Tacoma launch event about the compact-truck program and truck trends in general.

Are there any plans to bring a diesel to the marketplace?

We don’t talk about future powertrains or development of future powertrains. The diesel question is interesting in this segment compared to the full-size segment. In full-size there’s a big demand for diesel, but in this [Tacoma’s] segment it really comes down to cost vs. return on investment. The biggest difficulty with a diesel right now is meeting [EPA] Tier 3 or [California’s] LEV III emissions. As we move toward 2017 and 2020, there’s a break point where the emissions requirements increase. Can it be accomplished? Yeah, but your aftertreatment system continues to grow in cost. So if you have an engine cost plus $3000 or $4000 for an aftertreatment system, and fluctuating fuel price, does the customer see a return on that investment? That’s the struggle right now. On a full-size you can get it because there’s a lot of residual value that goes with a truck, but we haven’t seen a big demand in the compact segment for a diesel at this time. And we don’t know if there’s a return on that investment. It’s a very interesting topic but the real question is, is it a one-year or two-year engine, or can it make it to 2020 when we have to be at ULEV70? That’s where it becomes really difficult.

Ford’s lightweighting strategy for the F-150 is well known. Was aluminum considered for this program, or for Tundra?

You’re always looking for different ways to skin a cat, and Ford picked aluminum. It’s just like what you’re seeing in our 2016 Tacoma, that whole cabin structure is all-new development, and their [Ford’s] whole cabin structure was all-new development. Anytime you get a chance to start over and do something different, from an engineering standpoint, what a wonderful program to work on. But there’s several ways to take weight out, and we tend to be a little more conservative. We use aluminum in different areas, but as you look at the ways to do it and the effect on cost of ownership for the customer, we chose high-strength and ultra-high-strength steel over aluminum [for the structure] because there’s more repair shops that can handle that; everybody can work with steel. And the cost of ownership goes down because your insurance costs don’t go up. In the future, you may see composites or carbon fiber or aluminum—there’s several ways to get there. One of our competitors is working with magnesium sheets [General Motors announced in 2012 it was testing a thermal-forming process and proprietary corrosion-resistance treatment for magnesium sheet metal], so everybody’s looking for what is the next breakthrough in body development. I think aluminum has its place on certain things, it’s just that we have taken a different approach.

What are some of the major technology trends moving forward in the truck market?

As we look toward the future come 2025 with CAFE and emissions regulations, I’m not sure what a truck is going to look like. For a full-size truck, the number one reason to buy it is capability or towing. For a compact truck, it’s really about lifestyle and what that person does with their vehicles. So for us, our customers are the youngest and most active in the segment. What they’re expecting as we move to the future, is it going to change? I don’t think their requirements are going to change, but how we address CAFE and emissions is going to affect what that vehicle looks like. Breakthroughs in aerodynamics—we spent a lot of time on aerodynamics on this truck [Tacoma]—and how do you improve the aerodynamic efficiency of the vehicle without giving up its capability. That’s going to be a big challenge. NVH is going to be a big challenge. How do we keep refining what the customer’s seeing? What the customer would accept 10 years ago is no longer acceptable. What used to be considered luxury-class NVH is now down in our C [segment] cars and our mid- and full-size cars. So from a truck standpoint, the guy who came out of an SUV or a luxury car and decides he’s going to be a truck owner now, he’s expecting the same creature comforts, the same NVH treatments in this truck. And we’re witnessing this in the explosion of the premium truck models now. So how do we get to that next level? Again from an engineering standpoint, what a great challenge.

The Tacoma has a standard GoPro mount and Qi wireless charging. Is consumer electronics integration a big trend moving forward?

It depends on the segment itself and the demographics of the segment. In the compact-truck segment, these customers are tied into the latest electronics…For a Tacoma—that Qi wireless charging or that GoPro mount, those were ideas that came right from our customer base—‘At home I throw my phone on a Qi pad but in the vehicle I’ve got to connect a cord and plug it in; if somebody else wants to plug their phone in, do I have enough USB ports or power points for them?’ So listening to the voice of the customer, we’re trying to apply what they’re asking for.

We teamed up with GoPro in San Francisco, and it was a great development because our body engineers learned a lot—camera positions and how to make the mount correctly—and GoPro engineers learned a lot, because they’re not familiar with working with the auto industry; this is the first time it’s ever been done. We worked with their video team and mounts engineering team, and shared information and data back and forth to find the best location that meets all regulations, which they’re not familiar with, but also how to get the best camera angle for our customers. Simple things like getting a perspective of the vehicle, which is something we learned from the GoPro engineers. When you mount that camera in our vehicle, it’s capturing some of the hood so you don’t just watch the ground and sky bounce around. The other thing is people like to see themselves and get their passengers’ reactions, so you can flip the camera around and capture everybody in the vehicle but still capture some of the outside terrain so you know what’s going on.

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