Toyota’s new truck makes off-roading simpler — ‘more civilized’ – Fortune

Posted: Monday, August 17, 2015

Toyota has a lot riding on the new Tacoma. While Toyota has dominated the midsize pickup truck segment with Tacoma, General Motors Co. rejoined the segment last year with Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon, and both have proven to be strong sellers.

Which may explain why the 2016 Tacoma — an updated model after a ten-year run — is offering a feature for those car enthusiasts who seek thrills on rugged, off-road terrain. The new Tacoma — which fans call the “Taco” — can be equipped with “crawl control,” a high tech system of computerized sensors and controls. It’s the first such application for a truck.

“We think that 40% of Tacoma buyers take their vehicles off road,” said Bill Fay, vice president of Toyota Motor Corp.’s U.S. divisional operations. “In the very toughest spots, crawl control will make things a bit more civilized.”

True, but the new feature might also make the new Tacoma appear soft or sissified compared with those off-road models that require more touch and coordination with brake pedal and accelerator.

Crawl control is the latest automotive high-tech gadget that precludes the judgment and driving skill of the person behind the wheel in order to deliver performance that, in theory, will avoid errors and slip-ups. Jeeps, Land Rovers and other off-road vehicles largely depend on the skill of their drivers to avoid getting stuck in rough, unpaved terrain. Toyota’s new Tacoma has a computer and sensors that apply brakes and gas automatically to each wheel. The driver need only steer.

It’s the latest gadget that is leading to self-driving cars, which need little or no driver input. By automating braking, cornering accelerating, lane-changing and navigation in a more comprehensive fashion, engineers at Google and elsewhere can build vehicles that can drive themselves.

In off-roading situations, conventional four-wheel-drive vehicles with high ground clearance may be able to avoid getting stuck in rough terrain if their drivers are skillful enough to sense when to apply gas and brakes.

In a demonstration held at an 1,800-acre backcountry proving ground on the outskirts of Seattle, Toyota invited scores of automotive journalists to test crawl control.

After bringing Tacoma to a full stop, the system is activated by a switch on the dashboard. Sensors and a computer apply brakes or power to individual wheels when needed, at five speed settings up to a maximum of five m.p.h. The driver has only to guide the vehicle’s direction with the steering wheel.

Pickup trucks are sold to consumers mostly on their capability to haul, tow and stand up to rough treatment. Tacoma flaunts its ability to overcome off-road pitfalls, with little driving skill needed.


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