2014 Tundra – Are Skinny Tires, a Higher MSRP, and Thin Plastic Panels Our Automotive Future?

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Regardless of your political leanings or environmental beliefs, we can all agree that government regulations are often imperfect. The newest CAFE regulations – which mandate a dramatic improvement in new vehicle fuel economy ratings over the next 12 years – are a great example.

Regulators, in an effort to:

  1. reduce national oil consumption (a good thing considering most of our oil comes from foreign countries), and
  2. reduce air pollution (also a good thing, at least if you like to breathe as much as I do)

have created a system that is forcing automakers to use every trick in their bag to try and meet this fuel economy mandate. While some of these tricks are admittedly awesome (direct injection, variable valve lift, stop-start systems), other tricks are less desirable…which brings me to skinny tires, thin plastic panels, and the 2014 Tundra.

Is the Reduced Capability of The 2013 Avalon A Sign of Things To Come?

2013 Avalon

The 2013 Avalon features a 3% decrease in weight but a 5% decrease in tire width...and a subsequent loss of performance.

Toyota’s breathless press release about the new 2013 Avalon touts a number of weight-saving features, many of which will be applied across the Toyota line-up:

…lower vehicle weights are achieved utilizing revised lighter weight materials for vehicle construction. Rob McConnell, Principal Engineer, Body Shell and Exterior Plastics, said, “Through the installation of a higher class of high performance polypropylene resin (more fluid), we were able to decrease the general thickness of the front and rear bumpers, resulting in a decrease in mass, aiding in achieving improved fuel economy

Put another way, the 2013 Avalon uses thinner plastic bumpers than the outgoing 2012 Avalon. While it’s not necessarily bad to use thinner plastic, it’s not really good either. It’s a fair bet that this new thinner plastic is more expensive, not to mention that reducing the heft of the bumper covers doesn’t seem like a great way to improve crash worthiness.

Of course, it gets worse:

“Less mass makes Avalon more responsive and engaging near handling limits,” [Stephen Provost] explained. “Also, with less mass, less tire width is needed to reach competitive grip levels. The smaller [tire] width helps minimize drag losses to help enhance fuel economy, too.”

While Mr. Provost is technically correct when he says a lighter car can get away with using narrower tires, it’s not like the Avalon lost 500 or even 1,000 pounds of heft. The 2013 Avalon lost a grand total of 110 lbs, which represents a 3% reduction in weight. Hold on to that number for a minute.

The standard 2012 Avalon wears P215/60R16’s, which are both 215mm wide. If the 2013 Avalon goes with P205/60R16’s – or maybe P205/65R16’s – the width will be 205mm…that’s a 4.6% reduction in tire width. Toyota traded a 3% reduction in weight for almost 5% less tire width. Combined with the thinner plastic and some additional high strength steel (which is more expensive), the 2013 Avalon gets better gas mileage, but it’s also more expensive and perhaps a little less safe.

What Does This Mean For the 2014 Tundra?

While I have no knowledge of a plan to use thin plastic and skinny tires on the 2014 Tundra, it stands to reason that some future version of the Tundra will get both of these “enhancements.” Thin plastic is annoying to think about, but it’s not automatically bad.

Narrower tires, on the other hand, are bad, at least as far as truck owners are concerned. Narrower tires lead to reduced traction in wet weather and off-road, increased braking distance, and poorer performance in emergency situations. If these new tires are also “low rolling resistance” models, it will be a double whammy.

Of course, there’s a fix for this problem – when you buy a new Tundra, you can go to the tire store on the way home and get yourself a set of good tires – but who wants to do that?

Here’s to hoping that Toyota – and all the other truck manufacturers – figure out how to meet these new fuel economy regulations without ruining the capability of their pickups. Otherwise, I fear the next generation of trucks will be less capable than the models on the road today.

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Filed Under: Tundra News


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  1. mk says:

    So far, that has not been the trend. I remember when 300 hp was king of the hill for a 1/2 ton truck. Everyone wants bigger and better/faster when it comes to trucks. Personally, ONLY IF 1/2 ton trucks will achieve 25 avg mpg mostly hwy. miles I will go for 300 hp engines. 300 hp is still enough to pull most objects in a 1/2 ton truck with very little issues. You really do NOT need 381/401 lbs. of torque when 1/2 ton trucks only say 10-12 years ago in a V8 had 300 hp and around 330lbs. of torque at most and towed just fine. You just won’t be first off the line and have to work the engine a tad harder is all.

    As far as skinnier tires, most 3/4 ton trucks have taller and skinnier width tires than 1/2 ton trucks so that will not be an issue as long as they don’t go super skinny which they won’t.

    As far as plastic, I hate plastic of all kinds, but if they can somehow make the plastic lighter and skinnier but MUCH stronger, then I do not have an issue with that. My issues with plastic on all vehicles nowadays is the clips holding parts on inside and outside the truck break easily and cause more problems than sheet metal screws or something more solid than just plastic clips and push pins made of cheap plastic which all vehicles have on them nowadays.

  2. gordich says:

    Yes, big power can be awsome. However I still prefer my 2010 Tundra with the 4.6 engine. I drove 1100 miles last weekend and averaged 21.8 miles at 70mph with the truck heavily loaded on the return leg. That is great for any manufacturers d.c. 4×4 pickup! Here in South Central Alaska our cheapest local gas is down to $4.17 per gallon for regular. Ouch! Still has plent of power to pull our 4000lb Airstream here in very hilly/mountainous country. With 30,000 miles on it I’m still impressed that there have been zero problems with this rig. Love the Tundra!

  3. Mickey says:

    Before anything I would check the crash tests to see if the Tundra/Avalon have a 5 star rating. With these thinner plastic etc will cause you to really rely on the safety systems (air bags etc) to keep you alive. Now the cost of replacements? Still going in the 07 CM. Just shy of 142,000 miles. I still get 20 mpg.

  4. mk says:

    You can pull/tow darn near anything with the 4.6L same as the 5.7L, just won’t get there as quick is all. Main reason I got the 5.7L is resale since 90% of users around me opt for the 5.7L. For those that NEED over 500 ponies may I ask why? I guess if going to go to the track, makes sense, but the 5.7L aready blows away most vehicles on the road except sports cars.

    AS far as safety goes with thinner plastics, it is well known that most cars are made to crumple to absorb the impact of a crash and doubt thinner plastic will have much of an impact on crash ratings, but could be wrong on that.

  5. gordich says:

    Yes I’m suprised by the excellent milage. I did install the TRD exhaust and intake,a hard folding cover for the bed(Peragon), and Michelin LTX M/S2 275X65X18. Of course pulling the Airstream milage drops a bunch, around 14-16mpg.

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