Here's why killing the Land Cruiser is a bad idea
An article that shouldn't really have to be written, but whatever.
It just doesn't make sense. In an automotive market that has gone insane for everything even remotely off-road focused, surely the undisputed most legendary, capable and greatest off-roader ever built (no comments from you, Jeep people) should be selling like crazy? But it isn't.
According to Carsalesbase.com, the Land Cruiser's sales peak was in 1999, during the last SUV boom, when Toyota sold 18,602 of them, and Land Cruiser sales have not once cracked 4,000 since 2006. Somehow, despite literally every single vehicle that is even remotely off-road focused selling like crazy (even crossovers like the Subaru Crosstrek and Honda Passport that look a little off-roady), Toyota has managed to make the Land Cruiser sell badly. And I think there are a few reasons for this.
Sorry, this is not an $85,000 interior
The first reason has to do with the vehicle itself. Yes, it's incredibly reliable, and very capable off road, but it's really expensive (starting at $85K in the US) and not all that luxurious compared to its rivals. It's also really old (it was last redesigned in 2008), and it gets absolutely atrocious gas mileage. The EPA rates it as 13 MPG in the city, 17 on the highway, and 14 combined. By contrast, the 2020 Cadillac Escalade gets 14/21/17, and the Lincoln Navigator gets 16/21/18. Even a Range Rover with a supercharged, 510 horsepower V8 gets better gas mileage--the same as the Navigator, actually. In fact, of all the Land Cruiser's rivals, the only vehicle to get similarly bad gas mileage--besides the Land Cruiser's platform-mate, the Lexus LX--is the Mercedes G550, a car that has roughly the same aerodynamic properties as my house.
However, I don't think the Land Cruiser's problems are just that it is expensive, and old, and thirsty, and a Toyota. I think the biggest problem here is marketing. As you may have heard, Jeep is about to launch their new "Grand Wagoneer," a luxury SUV that you can expect will cost at least what the Land Cruiser does (and possibly upwards of $100K if you pile on the options). Jeep is not really considered to be a premium brand, but I suspect that they will be able to get away with doing this, because they have done a great job playing up their off-road heritage and their vehicle's Trail-Rated-ness in advertising, to the point where people are willing to pay nearly $60K for Jeep Wranglers, a vehicle that is designed to be taken apart and rebuilt like Lego.
Similarly, Land Rover became a premium brand because of their off-road heritage and other things that PR people love to talk about, to the point where they can sell their unreliable and increasingly ugly vehicles for nearly sticker price. Toyota should be great at this, as the Land Cruiser is designed and built to have a usable life of at least 25 years (which is 24 and a half years longer than that of the average Land Rover), and Land Cruisers (and the Hilux pickup) are still used in some of the most inhospitable environments on earth. If luxury SUV buyers knew about this, they would be lining up around the block to buy Land Cruisers, and Toyota would have a much easier time charging $85K for them.
But Toyota didn't do that. They ignored the Land Cruiser in the US for the past two decades, refused to put money into marketing even as sales of off-road focused SUVs have soared. The six-figure sunglasses crowd knows all about Jeeps, and Land Rovers, and G-Wagens, but because Toyota hasn't spent money on marketing, these people will think the Land Cruiser is just another big Toyota like the (much cheaper) Sequoia, and that it won't be very good when they fully utilize its off-road ability by driving up onto the lawns of their friend's mansions. And they will buy a Range Rover, and it'll be like buying several cars for the price of one because of all the courtesy loaners they will get while their Range Rover is in the shop making their local Land Rover dealer richer.
Another example of Toyota's lack of effort towards the Land Cruiser: A few years ago, Toyota came up with its "TRD Pro" trim level, an especially off-road focused trim available on the Tacoma, 4Runner, Tundra, and Sequoia. I'll give you one guess which vehicle in Toyota's truck/body-on-frame SUV line doesn't come in this trim. That's right, it's the Land Cruiser. The fact that the freaking Sequoia is available in Toyota's top off-road trim -- and the Land Cruiser isn't -- demonstrates pre-recession General Motors levels of ineptitude.
And that's not the only problem. I don't know why Toyota has gotten it into their heads that the best strategy for sales is to sell only the top trim level here, so it competes with its platform mate the Lexus LX, but apparently they have. Because apart from the limited-production Heritage Edition (seemingly created to remind people that the Land Cruiser still exists), the Land Cruiser range starts and ends at $85K (unless you get the $2,000 rear-seat entertainment option). Look on Toyota's Australian website, and you'll see a full Land Cruiser range, not just the one fully loaded model we get here.
Now, as much as I would like them to bring the stripped out base model with cloth seats and black plastic trim to the US, I do think it probably wouldn't sell. But what about the midrange models, or anything at all below the absolute top trim level? Maybe Toyota is afraid of stealing sales from the cheaper Sequoia, but come on, if you have to choose between making the Sequoia or the Land Cruiser? It's a no-brainer. MAKE THE LAND CRUISER. Because if you say "OK, you're going to pay a little over $5K more for a Land Cruiser than for the equivalent GMC Yukon, but you're going to get an iconic and incredibly capable off-roader and you won't have to get another one for 25 years," I think a lot of people would go for that. But if you say "OK, you can get a Yukon starting at about $50K, or a Land Cruiser starting at $85K," not many people are going to do that. And like it or not, people are going to be cross-shopping a Land Cruiser with a Yukon a lot more than with a Range Rover, because Toyota hasn't bothered to put effort into advertising and promoting it, which brings us back to the beginning.
This is great, but how about bringing one of the lower trim levels to the US?
OK, so now I've outlined how Toyota has managed to make the only off-road-focused SUV that isn't selling. The second question is, how do they fix it? Well, as I see it, they have two options. First, they could just bring the next Land Cruiser to the US, but do everything I've suggested above. Invest in marketing, try to get people excited, bring the full range (or almost the full range) to the US, and try to get it priced at least somewhat competitively with its competitors. I think they can and should do this, but if they don't, they have another option.
The other option is to make another FJ Cruiser, but call it the Land Cruiser in the US now that they've freed up the name. A little background: the FJ Cruiser was a retro-styled off-roader inspired by Toyota's classic FJ40-series Land Cruiser and was targeted at the Jeep Wrangler. Unfortunately, it lacked a removable roof and doors, so it was really closer to Toyota's own 4Runner. And buyers, faced with the choice of a cool-looking, off-road-focused SUV that they couldn't see out of or a slightly less cool-looking one that they could, chose the 4Runner, and Toyota ended production of the FJ Cruiser in 2014. Big mistake. Not even a year later, the SUV market, particularly the market for off-road-focused SUVS, exploded, and now used FJ Cruisers are bringing the same kind of money they brought when new. And given the kind of rapturous reception Ford's new Bronco has recieved, combined with the values of used FJ Cruisers, Toyota would be incredibly stupid not to make a new FJ Cruiser--albeit one with a removable roof and doors to bring it closer to the Jeep Wrangler and differentiate it from the 4Runner. I think Toyota should do this whether or not the next Land Cruiser makes it to the US, but if the next Land Cruiser doesn't come here, they should call the new FJ the Land Cruiser rather than the FJ Cruiser in the US and Canada, and just call it the FJ Cruiser in countries where its sales overlap with the full-size Land Cruiser.
What Toyota absolutely should not do is have a lineup of trucks and SUVs without some kind of Land Cruiser in it. That would be a huge missed opportunity. In fact, you just have to look at Toyota's current lineup to see that if they are given a chance, old, objectively not-great but extremely cool vehicles can be really popular. The 4Runner is proof of this.
Let me give you some facts and figures. In 2010, when the current generation of 4Runner was brand new, Toyota sold 46,531 of them. It has not been substantially updated since then, so you would expect that sales would have continued to drop. Uh, no. In fact, in 2018, Toyota sold 139,694 of them. Go back and read that last sentence again. Yes, that figure is still a lot less than the best-selling new cars (Honda sold nearly 300,000 Accords that same year, by comparison), but for a nearly 10-year-old, truck-based SUV that is objectively worse than pretty much all of its car-based competitors, it's astonishing.
And it's not just the 4Runner. That same year, Jeep sold 240,000 Wranglers. The next year, with the release of the new G-Wagen, Mercedes sold 7,348 of them, which is a lot for a low-volume, hand-built SUV that starts at $125K. And, as I alluded to earlier, Land Rover has no problem attracting customers despite their terrible build quality. Land Rover generally sells between 16 and 18,000 of its full size Range Rover every year in the US, and I guarantee you Toyota could get close to that with the Land Cruiser if they tried. So basically, the point of this rant about Land Cruisers is: If they tried, Toyota could easily make lots of money selling the Land Cruiser. If they aren't, it isn't because there's no market, it's because Toyota isn't trying, isn't advertising it, and doesn't seem to care.