Why The New Toyota Land Cruiser Will Succeed Where the FJ Cruiser Failed

Opinion / 14 Comments

The FJ Cruiser was ahead of its time, but it also faced several uphill battles.

The 2024 Toyota Land Cruiser 250 is a retro-styled midsize SUV, and to anyone born before the year 2000, the concept will sound oddly familiar. That's because we've been here before. The Toyota FJ Cruiser made its debut at the 2005 North American International Auto Show, and it was a smash hit, for a while.

Retro was the leading design theme at the time, and as we now know, it only grew. The FJ was also based on the Toyota Land Cruiser Prado, or the previous-generation Lexus GX as we know it. The design was universally praised, and we later found out that it was an epic off-roader thanks to a body-on-frame design, class-leading approach and departure angles, a full-time 4WD system, and a Torsen center differential.

It was a retro-styled Toyota with hardcore underpinnings. It was also cool and was introduced during Toyota's peak passionless period. But it ultimately floundered and left the American market due to slow sales, while it soldiered on elsewhere in the world until pretty recently.

So what happened?

CarBuzz Toyota 2011-2014 Toyota FJ Cruiser Front View Toyota
2011-2014 Toyota FJ Cruiser Front View

Blame The Banks

The FJ Cruiser went on sale in America in 2006, and the intended audience responded as well as expected. Despite not being available for an entire year, 2006 was its best year ever, and Toyota sold 56,225. In 2007, it sold 55,170. Toyota had a great thing going, but in 2008 sales dipped to 28,668, and 11,941 the year after that.

Toyota recovered slightly in 2010 when sales shot up to nearly 15,000, but it was downhill after that. After selling only 11,726 units in 2014, it pulled the plug. To put that in perspective, Toyota sold fewer models in 2014 than it sold during the FJ Cruiser's first two months on sale back in 2006.

Front View Toyota 2011-2014 Toyota FJ Cruiser Rear View Toyota
Front View
2011-2014 Toyota FJ Cruiser Rear View

As you probably guessed by the subheading, the banks were to blame. The news hit in late 2007, and the full effect of the Great Recession hit in 2009. It began with the burst of the housing bubble, and then everything came tumbling down like a house of cards. People simply didn't have money for a new SUV, even though it was a $20,000 car if you haggled a bit. In addition to the purchase price, people had nightmares of feeding the naturally aspirated V6 and its sloppy six-speed gearbox.

After the recession, folks remained hesitant and more careful with their money. Pre-2008, they wouldn't have thought twice about buying a car based simply on its design. But after the recession, they took the safer route and spent their money on a more practical 4Runner or a base Corolla.

Front-End View Toyota 2011-2014 Toyota FJ Cruiser Side View Toyota
Front-End View
2011-2014 Toyota FJ Cruiser Side View

Blame Toyota

When customers had money to splurge, it was easy to overlook the FJ Cruiser's flaws. Yes, it was an epic off-roader, but it fell into the same trap as the Jeep Wrangler. Its off-road prowess came at the expense of on-road handling. The FJ felt big and sloppy.

The design, while superb, also impacted visibility and practicality. The C-pillar was too thick, and the spare tire obstructed half of the rear window. Toyota also gave the FJ suicide doors, which were extremely cool to show off, but a pain to live with. You needed to open the front doors to open the rear half-doors. On the school run, you couldn't just park and let the kids jump out. The rear legroom was poor, and the trunk was small for such a big car. And, worst of all, the interior quality was rubbish.

Toyota didn't help the situation by launching Trail and TRD versions of the 4Runner while the FJ Cruiser was in recovery. There was too much overlap, and the 4Runner won. The FJ Cruiser lived on in other countries until earlier this year, but America pulled the plug nearly a decade ago. And you'd be surprised by how much Americans are willing to pay for a clean example these days.

Open Door Toyota Toyota Interior Overview Toyota Toyota
Open Door
Interior Overview

Has Toyota Fixed The Problem?

Whether the economy is fixed depends on who you ask. The MAGA hat wearers will tell you Biden is sinking America, while the lefties will yell something about the new Barbie movie being the cure to everything. Here are the facts: The US economy is strong, has regained all pre-pandemic losses, and has surpassed pre-pandemic levels.

The average price of a new car is at an all-time high and relatively close to the mid-$50k price point Toyota is aiming for. So that's affordability sorted.

The new Land Cruiser is also better designed than the FJ. It looks retro, and you can even choose between round or rectangular headlights, and it arrives at a time when retro isn't just a fad but an entrenched societal obsession. Toyota was early to the retro party, but at that time, the FJ was an outlier. Now, retro is mainstream and the Land Cruiser will benefit.

Toyota Toyota Toyota Toyota

It has a more powerful and fuel-efficient hybrid powertrain, four traditional doors, and a large trunk. The interior is less luxurious than its predecessor's, but it looks good, and we hope Toyota learned its lesson about saving costs on build quality.

We guess the main question is whether customers will pay an additional $10,000 over the price of a 4Runner for the prestige of owning a Land Cruiser. With things going so swell in the USA, we're going to say yes.

So ultimately, why will the Land Cruiser succeed where the FJ failed? A little bit of sheer dumb luck, to be honest. The retro Land Cruiser is a classic case of right place, right time. The FJ had flaws, but its downfall was primarily a result of circumstances beyond its control. We don't have a crystal ball, but the automotive world seems to have had its stars align for the LC to hit all the right notes.

Toyota Toyota Toyota Toyota

Join The Discussion



Related Cars

To Top