We have lost the Land Cruiser. Gone next year, done in by the twin demons of low sales and product planning. The Toyota has been discontinued for America after 2020, and once it goes, it may never come back.
This feels like a Thing. One of those markings of time and tide that you look back on, years later, as simultaneously momentous and not. There are, of course, far more important events happening in this country right now, and the disappearance of a luxury-oriented off-road truck from the American market means about as much in the grand scheme as the death of a gnat. Still, I looked in the mirror this morning and noticed another wrinkle.
The world has given us roughly three billion pithy quotes on the nature of time and aging. My favorite is from Dr. Seuss: “How did it get so late so soon?”
Call it one of the quirks of being human—mentally speaking, we tend to log our years through mileposts less than obvious, because the obvious markers rarely make the same impression. I began my full-time efforts in this business in January of 2006, at the offices of Automobile magazine, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, at the age of 25. One of the first test cars I drove there was a 2006 BMW M3 convertible. Maybe a thousand miles on the clock. I had been around a few of those cars before, working on them in my prior life as a mechanic or instructing their owners at track days, but I had never driven one. And certainly never had anyone just hand me the keys and let me add mileage as… work.
That M3 was new but also old, in production since 2000 and about to be discontinued. The moment felt special regardless, a surreal introduction to a surreal new job. It bubbles up in memory every six months or so—someone will mention how that generation of M3 is a classic and rising in value, or some friend will find a totaled one for $500 in Portland or Poughkeepsie. In that instant, some small but not insignificant mental breaker trips, and I wonder briefly how a new shiny becomes an aged dull as I feel not the slightest bit older, and I can feel the key in my hand, stomach all warm and fuzzy, and then I look in the mirror and see one more wrinkle.
Not sad, not at all, just aware.
So Toyota is killing the Land Cruiser. So it goes, as Vonnegut said. Happily, other countries still see LC in various forms. One of those is the 1980s-vintage LC70, an unbelievable, it-still-lives! miracle in steel, long past its prime but still built and sold in dealers. (Oh, the number of times I have stared at Toyota.com.au in silence! Whole minutes on end, imagining the glory! There is a “troop carrier” model! A single-cab pickup! Factory snorkels and new parts on classically toned 1980s-shape sheet metal and and and! Half a world away, untouchable, unimportable, illegal by federal motor-vehicle standards. The internet is as awful as it is lovely.)
Carmakers base their decisions on unit sales. Land Cruisers don’t sell here. Not anymore. The truck’s annual volume has sat in the low four figures every year for a decade and a half. Hell, in 2019, the Mazda Miata outsold the Land Cruiser in America by a factor of two to one.
The Miata. Not exactly on every street corner, the little buggers.
It’s all remarkable, really, given how well this country takes to anything trucklike—or anything shaped like a truck, or even remotely truckish at 100 yards if you squint. Regarding the Toyota’s fate, blame the curse of indecision, a cross-purpose aim that got too crossed up. Sixty-two years ago, the Land Cruiser met our shores as a kind of vaguely agricultural trail weirdo, half Jeep and half tractor. The name is older than “Ford Mustang”, older than “Porsche 911”. These days, with its live rear axle and $86,470 base price, the Toyota is too trucky for the luxury-SUV crowd, too expensive and luxe for dedicated off-roaders. The current Land Cruiser, known internally as LC200, sports a two-speed transfer case and a locking center differential, but it also comes with 12 cupholders, eight seats, and a console refrigerator. Desperate to cruise any land you’ve got, but also saddled with a sticker that seems half sensible, given what you get, and half insane, because, well, $86,000 Toyota truck.
Or at least that’s what was said by almost everyone I met last week. I drove a new Land Cruiser around for a few days. There was surprise regarding the price of the thing, and noticeable offense, echoed at gas stations and in grocery-store lots all over the eastern half of Tennessee, where I live. (Usually some variation on “Are you f***ing mental?” and “Oh, to hell with that.”)
It helps to remember that, years ago, Land Cruisers were an affordable alternative to many things—Jeeps, Land Rovers, Range Rovers, pickups—and generally more durable than any of them. You get the feeling that the model long floated on a sort of latent goodwill from that period, this fading memory of warmth and an old friend helping you out. Only now that friend is walking out of your house with a few pieces of silverware “accidentally” in a back pocket. People don’t forget stuff like that.
Either way, no manufacturer has ever closed the door on an older model without at least a tiny bit of pomp. As a going-away present, Toyota Motor Sales recently birthed the one-year-only, $89,070 2020 Land Cruiser Heritage Edition. The upcharge gains you BBS wheels and two fewer seats, plus a couple of retro badges and a Yakima roof rack. That was the model that Toyota sent my way for testing. Toward the end of the truck’s stint in the driveway, I headed into the mountains near my house and watched a sunrise shove a few storms around. My six-year-old daughter, Marion, came with. She likes travel. We were high enough in the hills to watch clouds sift at eye level. Gray sky above, white sky below.
“Daddy,” Marion said, after an hour or so, “I like this truck. It feels fun.”
“Well,” I said, “it is fun. And it can go just about everywhere.”
“Can we get one and go, um, everywhere?”
“No. I don’t think I’m old enough, and it’s really outside our budget, anyway.”
“Oh.” She thought for a moment. “What is our… budget?”
“Mostly just something your mother and I use to thinly justify my purchase of neat cars that leak a lot.”
“Okay. I like this truck anyway. You should get older and make more budget, so we can buy one.” Matter-of-fact.
“My dear,” I said, laughing, “I’m working on it.”
She smiled. The Toyota trundled along contentedly. I found myself wondering what old Land Cruisers go for on the open market. Couldn’t hurt to look. Nice way to say goodbye to an old friend. The wrinkles are usually from smiling, anyway.