The Toyota Tacoma Is Now Much More Than the Top-Selling Midsize Truck – It's Now One of America's Best-Selling Vehicles, Full Stop

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain

One year ago, the Nissan Altima, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Nissan Sentra, Toyota Highlander, and Ford Fusion were all significantly more popular than the Toyota Tacoma. The Altima, for example, sold 32-percent more often than the Tacoma, which was generating record volume in 2017.

Fast forward one year, however, and the Tacoma is operating at an entirely different level. It now outsells the Altima, Grand Cherokee, Sentra, Highlander, and Fusion, and by large margins in some cases. To say the Tacoma is America’s best-selling midsize pickup truck would be to wildly understate its success. To say the Tacoma is America’s fourth-best-selling pickup truck would be to minimize its playing field.

Through the end of November 2018, the Tacoma now ranks among America’s 15 best-selling vehicles outright. This is not a cult following. Calling it a Taco doesn’t reserve your place in an exclusive club. You now see enough of them in the run of a day to easily spot the differences between a TRD Sport, a TRD Off-Road, and a TRD Pro.

The Toyota Tacoma is now mainstream.

The Ford Ranger and Jeep Gladiator aren’t likely to undo that fact, either, as the Tacoma’s reputation is cemented, the loyalty it’s fostered is entrenched, and the future customer base it’s built has expanded by leaps and bounds over the last decade of midsize malaise. As other automakers handed the segment to Toyota on a platter, Toyota didn’t simply accept what was on the menu – the company ordered up a wide variety of side dishes to go with a main course of dominant market share.

You can see it not only by comparing the Tacoma’s success to other midsize pickups, but even in the way the Tacoma has moved up Toyota’s own sales charts. Only half a decade ago, Toyota’s U.S. dealers still sold twice as many Corollas as Tacomas. Today, Toyota sells just 1.2 Corollas per Tacoma in America, and if the current rates of Corolla decline and Tacoma growth continue in 2019, the Tacoma will outsell the Corolla, currently America’s third-best-selling car and ninth-best-selling vehicle overall. In fact, even if the passenger car market stabilizes and the Corolla’s decline stalls, continuation of the current Tacoma growth rate would propel it beyond the Corolla next year. Moreover, at Toyota Camry’s current rate of decline and the Tacoma’s current rate of growth, the Camry’s hold on Toyota’s No.2 spot – behind the RAV4 – could be in danger in 2019.

Of course, the Tacoma’s fit within the pickup truck sector remains of great importance. While the Tacoma leads a small category that only accounts for 18 percent of overall pickup truck sales, its lead in that category is so great that linking it only with midsize trucks provides an incomplete perspective. The Tacoma’s 49-percent share of the midsize truck market (as of the end of September, when GM last reported sales results) translates to just under 1 in 10 truck sales overall.

Another yardstick for understanding the Tacoma’s move into the mainstream of the U.S. auto industry – made possible by major production increases in San Antonio and Tijuana over the last couple of years – remains its own history. At no point in its 24-year, three-generation history has the Tacoma been an unpopular vehicle.

The first-gen Tacoma averaged 135,000 annual U.S. sales. The second-generation truck averaged roughly 148,000 annual sales. But the Tacoma’s rapid post-recession rise, not slowed at all by the return of General Motors’ midsize twins nor the age of the second-gen Tacoma, produced a new level of Tacoma popularity. Year-over-year, Tacoma sales grew in 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 before hitting a record high of 179,562 units in 2015. That record was crushed in 2016 with 191,631 sales before Toyota topped it again with 198,124 sales in 2017.

That one-year-old record was put to bed little more than 10 months into 2018. Among America’s 15 top-selling vehicles, no nameplate is producing greater year-over-year growth than the Tacoma. A strong December would push the Tacoma over the 250K mark, a figure not reported by a non-full-size truck since the Ford Ranger in 2001. Yes, that Ranger, the one that’s returning for 2019.

The mainstreamification of the Tacoma is undeniably one of 2018’s important automotive stories. Yet while Toyota is once again proving that it can produce top-tier volume in a vehicle category – as it’s done with premium vehicles at Lexus, crossovers such as the RAV4, minivans such as the Sienna, and cars such as the Camry and Corolla – the Tacoma’s growth chart is not aped by the Tundra. Sales of Toyota’s full-size truck are likely to slide in under 120,000 units for a tenth consecutive year.

[Images: Toyota]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and and the founder and former editor of Follow on Twitter @timcaincars and Instagram.

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  • Akear Akear on Dec 26, 2018

    Sigh, Toyota does everything right.

  • Lutonmoore Lutonmoore on Aug 19, 2019

    There's a bunch of Tacomas around my part of NC. Nice looking trucks I think. But my 2016 Colorado LT works really well for me.

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