"If I ran the company..." The CarAdvice team play 'fantasy football' with the automotive industry and take turns in the top seat of the big brands. What would we do if we ran the show? First up, Susannah heads up Japanese giant, Toyota.
Stuck at a red light in suburbia the other day, I was lifted from my traffic inertia by the car in front of me. In a hue reminiscent of a milky coffee, with a crisp, contrasting white roof, it had the utilitarianism of a Jeep Wrangler and the boxiness of a Land Rover Defender, with the cute factor of a Suzuki Jimny and the colour scheme and styling of a Volvo XC40.
It was, I realised to my dismay, a Toyota FJ Cruiser – a car that ended production globally in August 2016 after a 10-year run. At the time, Toyota cited dwindling sales as the reason for its removal, although the car certainly attracted something of a cult following during its five-year tenure in Australia.
Equal parts rugged and retro, it arrived in Australia in 2011, a full eight years after it debuted as a concept to rave reviews at the 2003 Detroit Auto Show. It was designed to be a modern-day tribute to the Toyota FJ40 utilities from the 1960s.
In Australia, the FJ Cruiser was only ever offered with a 200kW/380Nm 4.0-litre petrol V6 and a five-speed auto gearbox, and boasted part-time 4x4, locking rear differentials and switchable active traction control for rugged terrain tackling, plus the benefit of Toyota’s proven reputation for reliability.
Above: An FJ Cruiser in Quicksand, next to an FJ40 in Dune Beige. Posted by Ih8mud.com user Cleg.
But it wasn’t without its flaws either. Many cited the lack of a diesel engine as a potential deterrent for economy-conscious buyers given the petrol engine could prove thirsty, while the car’s huge C-pillar made visibility limited at best, while the suicide doors and spartan interiors made it something of a niche proposition.
With its pastel paint options, eye-catching boxy design, off-road edge and two-tone roof, the FJ cruiser was, in many ways, ahead of its time. Today, we see vehicles like the Jimny and even the Hyundai Venue trading on the same aesthetic and functional qualities the FJ Cruiser possessed.
Could it be that Toyota axed its quirky off-roader a little too early? In a market now dominated by SUVs and 4x4 utilities, is the year 2020 the FJ Cruiser’s long-awaited sweet spot? And could it be that amid sales slowdowns, same-same SUV designs and decision fatigue, a mass-market utility with a serious sense of fun and aesthetic X-factor could be just what the doctor ordered?
This, ladies and gentlemen, brings me to my point: If I were to magically become Toyota CEO overnight, I declare my first (and possibly only) edict would be to revive the FJ Cruiser – with some tweaks.
For starters, give Aussies the diesel powertrain they so desperately craved. Better yet – offer the FJ Cruiser as two variants: a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6 and a petrol hybrid, to harness the collective power of Toyota’s impressive hybrid track record (and, let’s be honest, to try and emulate the success of the RAV4 hybrid).
Next, do away with the massive C-pillar, or alternatively, equip the car with a virtual blind spot camera like the Clear Vision mirrors in Land Rovers, which use external cameras to augment your view in real time.
Rear hinged doors make a statement, sure, but they’ve got a bit of a bad rap on the safety and tight-quarters accessibility front, and could put some potential buyers offside. My advice as temporary Toyota CEO? Cut the rear hinged doors but keep the practicality factor by having them open up to a complete right angle to allow ease of entry.
And given lots of SUV shoppers these days have a lifestyle focus as much as they have a practicality focus, you could gussy up the cabin to add a bit more comfort than the original’s sparse utilitarianism.
The one thing I wouldn’t change? The FJ Cruiser’s unique exterior looks and cool two-tone colour options, which served as something of a precursor to today’s car design trends. My picks are the retro blue or the coffee hue I spotted at the traffic lights, which I later found out was called “Quicksand”.
Of course, as CEO I had to do a little market research before making this pitch, so I contacted Brendon Green, General Manager of Motor Vehicles at used car sales website Pickles.
“Whilst Pickles have only seen a limited number of FJ Cruisers through our various sales channels, the FJ’s resale price in the used car market was exceptionally strong. I’m certain FJ owners would be very happy with their purchase and the slow depreciation rate compared to other off road vehicles in the market,” Mr Green told me.
There you have it. My last port of call was, of course, Toyota, to ask whether they'd consider my proposal as fake CEO. Here was their diplomatic response:
"When the FJ Cruiser ended its production run in August 2016, Australians had bought more than 11,000 vehicles, a pleasing result for us.
"It was designed as a basic, capable and affordable vehicle aimed specifically at serious off-roaders looking to push the limits. It came with a number of unique features like the side access clamshell doors and swing up glass that was loved by the weekend lifestyle communities that bought it and really filled a niche in the off-roading vehicle segment.
"Since its departure from global production, Toyota has hinted at a vehicle like this with the concept Toyota FT-4X (Future Toyota 4WD Crossover), which was unveiled at the 2017 New York Motor Show. Again, this is another vehicle with unique looks with a strong 'X-theme' to many of its design elements.
"Although this vehicle is a concept car with no plans for production, it showcased a number of cool off-road design elements similar to the FJ cruiser that would allow for very flexible storage as well as the incorporation of a GoPro in the side view mirror to capture video of any adventures."
I mean, technically that's not a 'no', right? Although as CEO, I'll go on the record and say that the FT-4X isn't quite what I had in mind for the 2020 iteration of the FJ Cruiser.
Back to the drawing board, team.
Above: Toyota's FT-4X concept.