Update: ‘FJ Cruiser-inspired SUV teased, but isn’t expected immediately’ and ‘Interest in off-road capable EVs on the rise’ sections and ‘Revised plan’ sub-section of ‘Platform’ updated.
On 14 December 2021, Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) revealed a spate of new EVs that it plans to launch this decade. In addition to mainstream bZ series models, the future Toyota electric car lineup includes some recreational models, one of which is the ‘Toyota Compact Cruiser EV’ concept which is also called the Toyota LiteCruiser, given away by the text on the instrument cluster and rear registration plate. However, some of these EVs have hit a snag in the early stages of their development.
FJ Cruiser-inspired SUV teased, but isn’t expected immediately
On October 24, 2022, Reuters published a report saying Toyota has suspended work on the Compact Cruiser EV and several other models it announced in December 2021. The company is taking a second look at its publicly announced EV roadmap, as per the report.
Fast forward to August 2, 2023, at the world premiere of the Toyota Land Cruiser 250, set to arrive in the U.S. as the 2024 Toyota Land Cruiser, fans received a new glimmer of hope. Simon Humphries teased an SUV similar to the Compact Cruiser EV concept during his presentation, stating that Toyota customers trust the company “to keep the Land Cruiser relevant and thriving toward the future,” which “could mean anything from carbon-neutral approaches to ensuring that the Land Cruiser brand is more affordable and within reach of even more people around the world.”
Humphries is the BoM member, Operating Officer, Senior General Manager of Design Field, and Chief Branding Officer at Toyota. The teaser and his statement strongly indicate that the Compact Cruiser EV will evolve into a future production model. To this end, the company may develop a successor to the e-TNGA platform for future EVs at more competitive prices than the bZ4X. We’ve discussed more on this matter in the ‘Platform’ section.
Furthermore, the Reuters report suggests that the company’s production costs are not as low as Tesla’s, so it would need to rethink its methods. EV thermal management is another area where Tesla leads and Toyota wants to improve.
Interest in off-road capable EVs on the rise
There has been a significant rise in interest in electric off-roaders since 2020. Looking at the reservations managed by new and upcoming electric off-roaders—over 1.5 million (unofficial) for the Tesla Cybertruck, 90,000 for the GMC Hummer EV series, and 90,000+ for the Rivian R1 family—it’s evident that there’s robust demand for electric truck models in the United States.
Volkswagen Group is already taking note and plans to launch an all-electric pick-up and rugged SUV under a new Scout brand in 2026. Stellantis is bringing a raft of electric SUVs under the Jeep brand, including off-road-focused models like the Jeep Recon and Jeep Wrangler EV. JLR’s looking at possibly two zero-emission Land Rover Defender models, a BEV and a hydrogen FCEV. Its posh Range Rover Electric and Range Rover Sport Electric SUVs due in 2024 would also be capable on the trail. The same year, Mercedes-Benz Group plans to release the all-electric Mercedes EQG with high-density batteries.
In the lower price bracket, Suzuki has teased a mini SUV that looks like an all-electric Jimny. This underscores the potential demand for electric off-roaders in all the global vehicle segments, from A (Jimny) to F (Hummer).
B-SUV concept designed in Europe
In an interview with Auto&Design magazine, Humphries said that the company designed this model at ED2, its European design center located near Nice, France. Humphries said that the differences between Europe, Asia, and the U.S. have significantly reduced in the last two decades. A small B-SUV like this concept could work well in Europe and Asia as well as the U.S. and Canada.
A boxy body, upright A-pillars, clamshell bonnet, flat roof, large windows, beefy wheel arches, and chunky bumpers and rocker panels convey the ruggedness of the concept. Toyota says that it borrows a few styling cues from the first-gen Land Cruiser, including its off-roader silhouette and simple, strong body sections. Like many special off-road-focused Toyota models, including the FJ Cruiser and the new Land Cruiser 300 GR Sport and Tundra TRD Pro, the Compact Cruiser EV features a classic brand logo with the Toyota wordmark in block letters at the front.
However, this new model couldn’t have led to a direct Toyota FJ Cruiser successor, with its size and ‘Lite’ in its name indicating it is not as capable on the trail.
The target customers of the Toyota Compact Cruiser EV would be young professionals in urban areas who enjoy outdoor adventures like skiing, surfing, hiking, camping, and more. Based on these popular outdoor leisure pursuits, Toyota has imagined the Compact Cruiser EV in several accessorized versions. The small electric SUV could appeal to even young people like students looking for their first vehicle who are not that outdoorsy but wish to characterize themselves as someone who stands out.
The interior design of the Toyota Compact Cruiser EV is in line with its rugged and old-school exterior, but it’s contemporary wherever one would expect. A fully digital instrument cluster and a large floating touchscreen infotainment system are mounted on a single panel. The infotainment system appears to have a split-screen function, with a small preview of the navigation visible in the upper left corner and the rest of the screen area available for other features, like music, for instance.
The horizontal dashboard appears to feature a wide, slim air vent. A scale model of the concept sits as a decor piece in the middle of the dashboard. The center console is ergonomically placed, and it looks like a floating panel, which hints at free cabin space for a storage compartment beneath. Another interior highlight is a chunky two-spoke multifunction steering wheel with flattened top and bottom spokes. The image below shows white seats with wide headrests and orange inserts, and orange door pads as well.
Toyota had suggested that the LiteCruiser would be a conversion of an ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) model, where an architecture that is designed for a gas-powered vehicle is repurposed to house the battery and motor. Humphries had this to say while a video of Toyota’s lifestyle EV concepts, including the Compact Cruiser EV, was played in the background:
We believe that truly good products create new experiences for the customer, enhancing their chosen lifestyle directions. From that point of view, each electric vehicle should be unique and special, not only those on dedicated platforms but also those related to existing models.Simon Humphries, Design Senior General Manager, Toyota Motor Corporation (Media Briefing on Battery EV Strategies, December 14, 2021)
Toyota’s off-road SUVs like the Sequoia and Land Cruiser are coming off the TNGA-F body-on-frame platform, which wasn’t engineered for zero-emission energy applications like battery-electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, as per a report Automotive News published on August 11, 2023. “We will try to adjust the platform to accommodate,” said Keita Moritsu, the 2024 Land Cruiser’s chief engineer.
We doubt the company would be able to scale down the TNGA-F to fit a compact SUV. Even if engineers manage, the energy efficiency and driving range promised by this approach might not be enough to meet the customer expectations in this segment.
Toyota claims e-TNGA is a “BEV-dedicated platform.” However, according to a report that The Asahi Shimbun published on January 25, 2023, e-TNGA shares some of the structure with gasoline and hybrid electric vehicles. It has unnecessary parts due to which the manufacturing costs of EVs based on it are higher than those of Tesla models, which use bespoke EV platforms.
Toyota has concluded that e-TNGA is not competitive enough, and has reportedly decided to develop a skateboard chassis, just like Volkswagen Group did in 2018 with the MEB. On April 6, 2023, Reuters reported that the Japanese will switch to a new, bespoke platform for BEVs.
Both Reuters’ and The Asahi Shimbun’s reports are an indication that Toyota has had second thoughts about relying on modified ICE platforms for EVs. The company may take the route of a bespoke EV platform, an off-road capable skateboard, for the LiteCruiser and other potential future EVs.
On April 4, 2023, patent images of the FJ Cruiser surfaced online, courtesy of nissanzclub.com. Apparently, Toyota is working on securing the design of the concept, which need not necessarily mean it’s planning to launch a production vehicle. However, the company may consider a mini off-roader for the showrooms when it has the resources to pull off something like that, possibly in the second half of the decade. The Japanese automaker plans to start releasing its next-gen electric vehicles in 2026, as per an official announcement dated April 7, 2023.
We also have plans to release Next Generation BEVs, entirely different from those of today, the EVs created by carmakers, in 2026. This new generation of BEVs will double driving range by using batteries with far greater efficiency while also offering designs and driving performance to set hearts racing.Hiroki Nakajima, Executive Vice President, Toyota Motor Corporation (New Management Policy & Direction announcement on April 7, 2023)
The FJ Cruiser was designed and developed as a basic, capable and affordable off-roader that specifically targeted serious off-road enthusiasts. If a few of these hallmarks are preserved, the Toyota Compact Cruiser EV’s production model could be a formidable rival to budget off-roaders. The LiteCruiser could be something that’s great for urban driving but also accommodates the occasional adventure.
The FJ Cruiser has created many memories in the U.S.
Despite its sales failure that led to its discontinuation in 2014, FJ Cruiser owners in the U.S. have many memorable stories. Here’s a special one indeed. An FJ Cruiser owner in North America is about to clock 1 million kilometers (621,000 miles) on his SUV with the help of some mechanics in Airdrie, a city in Canada, according to Driving.ca. Chris Dekker, the owner of the garage maintaining Postmedia photographer Mike Drew’s FJ Cruiser, says that the engine’s health is better than “vehicles with a quarter of the mileage.”
Moreover, in JD Power’s dependability score (PDS) for SUVs from 2014 and 2015, the FJ Cruiser scored an impressive 84. JD Power asked thousands of owners how their SUVs performed after three years of ownership, and the rating was based on a scale of issues per 100 vehicles (a score of 100 means at least one issue per vehicle). A score of 84 means FJ Cruiser had less than one problem on average after 90 days of usage. Simply put, the FJ Cruiser is reliable.
In September 2011, MotorTrend‘s road testers reported their collective admiration for the FJ Cruiser. An MT journalist said the FJ Cruiser was for buyers who desired the “capability of the Jeep Wrangler, but the civility of a modern SUV.” Despite its ergonomic shortcomings, it has serious off-road capabilities. It has an inclinometer, analog compass, a water-resistant floor, and a ladder-frame chassis with good ride quality. Another editor quoted that everything about the SUV was silly, yet it remained highly desirable in its heydays.
Does Toyota still make the FJ Cruiser?
It’s safe to assume that the production of the Toyota FJ Cruiser has ended. Toyota globally discontinued the FJ Cruiser by December 2022, a spokesperson for the company’s South African division told Cars.co.za. Production of the FJ Cruiser took place at Hino Motors’ Hamura Plant in Japan.
It was inevitable: the legendary FJ series from Toyota met its end as customers migrate to newer and more efficient trucks. However, it’s possible that its influence lingers in Toyota dealer showrooms in the form of a small electric SUV that appeals to amateur off-roaders and city dwellers who want an electric SUV that’s rugged and classical-looking compared to typical crossovers.
While Toyota appears to be taking its time with EVs, if an Electric FJ Cruiser reprise is approved, it could be an interesting alternative to a Jeep Recon or Renegade EV.
Featured Image Source: Noriaki Mitsuhashi/N-RAK PHOTO AGENCY