Toyota Needs to Keep the Land Cruiser Alive — But Only As a Lexus

The Toyota Land Cruiser has an iconic name, but branding appears to be the only thing holding it back.

toyota landcruiser
Gear Patrol / Toyota

Toyota has confirmed there would be no Land Cruiser in the U.S. for the 2022 model year. But the company's statement left things open beyond that — so what it actually means is anyone’s guess.

Toyota may have killed the Land Cruiser in U.S. altogether. Or, the new next-gen J300 Land Cruiser could still be coming to America — but as a 2023 model, after a launch in Japan. Or, we could instead get a separate new vehicle called the "Land Cruiser," perhaps based on the new Tundra.

There is one more option, and it's arguably the best route. Toyota should leave the Land Cruiser name behind, and only bring the J300 to America as a Lexus.

The Toyota Land Cruiser name may be iconic with enthusiasts, but it isn't selling cars. After all, Toyota is not a premium brand in the United States. Sure, the 4Runner, Highlander and Tacoma are very popular, and like many new vehicles, have drifted upmarket in recent years. But it’s a massive delta between a $51,745 full-optioned 4Runner TRD Pro and a Land Cruiser that starts at $86,930. The latter prospect just doesn't play for Americans.

Toyota knows this — which is why it created Lexus. When I had a Land Cruiser to review, a lot of people, even people who like cars, did not know what it was. To explain it, I drew blank stares tracing the lineage back to the FJ40. Then I just told them it was the Toyota version of the top-of-the-line Lexus LX.

toyota landcruiser
Toyota

Every current trend in the market right now should be working in the Land Cruiser’s favor. One of America’s hottest automotive segment is upmarket three-row SUVs like the Land Cruiser. (Jeep is launching three of them this year.) Off-roading and overlanding may be the most dominant trend short of electric mobility; the Land Cruiser is legendarily capable for those purposes. SUV nostalgia is huge right now, thanks to the new Bronco and the new Hummer.

Yet, despite those factors working in the Land Cruiser's favor, almost no one buys it. The Lexus LX, which is basically the same car with Lexus badging, outsold the Land Cruiser by around 43 percent last year. Cadillac sold nearly eight times as many Escalades in an outgoing model year.

Admittedly, the Land Cruiser is old, which seems like it could be holding it back. (It launched for the 2007 model year.) But the 4Runner is ancient too, and Toyota sold more than 40 times as many of them last year. Likewise, the Lexus GX that came out for the 2010 model year is nearly as geriatric; Toyota sold nine times as many as them as it did Land Cruisers.

Yes, the Land Cruiser is expensive, another factor that could work against it. But the thing is, buyers are willing to pay big for luxury SUVs that don't carry Toyota branding. The new Jeep Grand Wagoneer will eclipse $100,000, and the Cadillac Escalade blows well past that mark; SUVs from Aston Martin, Lamborghini and Bentley all sell for twice that and more — and sell in numbers equal or greater to the Land Cruiser in the U.S.

Perhaps a new model packed with high-tech features and a huge relaunch could revive the “Land Cruiser” brand for Toyota. But, right now, the Toyota name seems to be the factor that’s metaphorically weighing this bulk SUV down more than anything else.

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