We’re not talking about pickup trucks with Z71 badges or the ever-growing stable of vehicles perceived to be capable of mud-running because of their when-the-wheels-slip all-wheel-drive systems.
No, truck-based SUV platforms with selectable four-wheel-drive are another breed. We’re well acquainted with the Jeep Wrangler’s steady rise up the utility vehicle sales leaderboard, and 2014 is almost assured of ending with record Wrangler sales.
The Unlimited has expanded that Wrangler’s appeal to corners of the market near and far. Wrangler sales in the United States have increased in four consecutive years and are likely to top 170,000 units in 2014.
Yet a far less likely candidate for success in this age is the Toyota 4Runner, sales of which have already risen to a seven-year high in 2014, with three months remaining on the calendar.
(Mr. Kreindler touched on the success of a 4Runner compatriot, the Lexus GX, back in July. GX sales will shoot above 20,000 units in 2014 for the first time since 2007. The GX’s nine-month U.S. sales total is already marks a four-year high.)
It’s not as though the 4Runner is alone on the loosely-defined SUV side of Toyota showrooms. From the RAV4 and Venza to the Highlander, FJ Cruiser, Sequoia, and Land Cruiser, Toyota sales consultants are swimming in utility vehicles up to their ears.
Moreover, the Highlander is an increasingly popular vehicle, with sales rising 12% to 105,526 units in 2014. The FJ Cruiser still matters, too, as Toyota’s clear-out of the cancelled off-roader has resulted in a 30% increase to 12,653 sales through nine months. In fact, 2014 should end as the best FJ Cruiser sales year since 2010, if not 2008.
But while the 4Runner has maintained its boxy shape and rugged underpinnings (and its not exactly track-honed on-road manners) Toyota did update the 4Runner for 2014. Granted, it’s still using a five-speed automatic and it won’t tow any more than a Highlander, but the 4Runner’s equipment levels were upgraded and the exterior was updated, like it or not.
On a monthly basis, 4Runner sales have now increased in eight consecutive months. Third-quarter volume jumped 69% to 19,978 units, 36% of the 4Runner’s 55,271-unit total through nine months.
These aren’t SUV-leading numbers, of course: Honda sells nearly 27,000 CR-Vs per month and America’s top-selling three-row vehicle, the Ford Explorer, should top 170,000 units by October’s end. But the 4Runner has regained volume status, and after forming just 1.3% of Toyota brand sales in 2009, 3.1% in 2010, 3.2% in 2011, 2.8% in 2012, and 2.7% in 2013, the 4Runner is now responsible 3.6% of all Toyota sales.
Indeed, it’s a more popular Toyota than the Avalon, Prius C, Prius V, Venza, FJ, Yaris, Sequoia, and Land Cruiser. In the broader scheme of things, it’s selling more often than the Acura MDX, Dodge Durango, Buick Enclave, Cadillac SRX, Chevrolet Suburban, Nissan Murano, and BMW X5.
55,271 sales in nine months is an impressive result for a vehicle which averaged 43,130 annual sales over the previous six years. It’s also a figure which tells us something about the market’s swing to car-like crossovers. In four consecutive years ending in 2006, Toyota sold more than 100,000 4Runners. Those days may be gone, but the 4Runner is not.
Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures.