Toyota FJ Cruiser style ‘LiteCruiser’ features in TMC’s future EV lineup [Update]

Update: ‘The pros and cons of a small AWD SUV’ and ‘Accessories’ sections added and ‘ICEV-BEV platform conversion pros and cons’ sub-section added to ‘Platform’ section.

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 cars, one of which is the ‘Toyota Compact Cruiser EV’ concept which is also called the Toyota LiteCruiser (or Toyota LiteCruser without the ‘i’), given away by the instrument cluster and rear registration plate.

Is Toyota bringing back the FJ Cruiser?

The Toyota Compact Cruiser EV is a Toyota FJ Cruiser-style small SUV. Toyota probably conceived the concept with the same intention as the FT-4X concept. The entry-level SUV might not conquer the desert like the FJ Cruiser, but it could easily handle a light off-road adventure. It’d be the perfect weekend getaway vehicle for small outdoor adventures.

In an interview with Auto&Design magazine, Simon Humphries, Design Senior General Manager, Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC), 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.

An enhanced version of a picture TMC released in December 2021 reveals an interesting piece of information about the Compact Cruiser EV. We see the “Yaris Cruiser” inscription on the tire sidewall, which might be a reference to its final name. Yaris as such doesn’t augur well with Cruiser, which has long been associated with stupendously capable off-road Toyotas. Either way, TMC should leverage the popularity of the Cruiser name, and both Yaris and Lite can communicate the SUV’s B-Segment positioning.

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. However, this new model is not the successor to the Toyota FJ Cruiser, with its size and ‘Lite’ in its name indicating it is not as capable on the trail. 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.

Pros & cons of a small AWD SUV

Pros

Affordable: The Suzuki Jimny is a testament to the fact that many off-roading enthusiasts and adventurers prefer small AWD SUVs. For first-time customers, a small AWD SUV offers a great start at a low price. It’s a good platform to acquire off-roading skills without overspending on something like the Rivian R1S or the GMC Hummer EV SUV. Plus, many customers may not even need large, serious off-roaders. A small AWD SUV could be sufficient for their basic off-roading needs.

Visibility: In addition to being affordable, they provide a good view of the road ahead because of their small footprint and higher seating position.

Urban mobility: In the cities and towns, a small AWD SUV is easy to drive and park. Narrow streets, tight parking spots, and busy areas are easily manageable when the vehicle has a small footprint.

Cons

Limited off-roading capability: Small dimensions may not allow packing the most sophisticated powertrain and off-roading hardware.

Limited range: There might not be enough space to fit a large battery pack, meaning traveling long distances for adventures could be challenging in places where the charging infrastructure is basic.

Accessories

Depending on what the purpose is, customers could equip Toyota’s electric small off-road SUV with a wide range of accessories. Tow hooks, roof racks, skiing/surfing gear mounts, roof box, side step, flood lights, etc. are some of the accessories Toyota could offer if it launches such a model.

Interior

Toyota Compact Cruiser EV or Toyota LiteCruiser interior
The functional interior of the Toyota LiteCruiser/LiteCruser doesn’t disappoint in technology and style. Image Source: YouTube/Toyota Motor Corporation

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 Compact Cruiser EV mountain
The Toyota Compact Cruiser EV, if launched, could be an excellent choice for first-time electric off-road SUV customers. Image Source: Toyota

Platform

Toyota suggests that the LiteCruiser will 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)

ICEV-BEV platform conversion pros and cons

Pros

Low-cost: Converting an internal combustion engine vehicle platform into a battery electric vehicle platform involves low development and production costs. It’s especially advantageous in entry-level models in which price is a determining factor for their success.

Fast development: Modifying an ICEV platform to build an EV on it could be faster than developing a bespoke EV platform from the ground up. The manufacturer is able to launch the electric variant within a couple of years, and can use the same production line.

Cons

Technical limitations: Leveraging EV technologies to their fullest capabilities is possible only with a bespoke EV platform. For example, an ICE platform may not allow fitting the largest possible battery pack.

Space: An ICE vehicle platform modified for an EV would typically not allow as much cabin space as a bespoke EV platform. It has a provision for an engine and parts like fuel tank and exhaust pipe which are unnecessary in an EV.

Not future-proof: A modified platform may have a limited life when it comes to adopting new technologies compared to a new platform developed especially for electric vehicles.

AWD with X-Mode

The electric FJ Cruiser should feature a capable AWD powertrain with X-Mode. Like the bZ4X AWD, all Toyota EVs with front and rear motors may feature electric AWD with X-Mode, the Japanese automaker’s branding for e-AWD. The driver can use it in Snow/Dirt and Snow/Mud modes. Engaging the Snow/Dirt mode offers more stability and enhances traction on slippery dirt surfaces. Activating the Snow/Mud mode applies the brakes on spinning wheels to create an LSD effect to give more traction. Plus, it positions the tires to slip such that they clear any snow or mud.

We imagine that Toyota engineers would develop an advanced X-Mode to provide its bigger electric SUVs with powerful off-road capability comparable to any off-road SUV.

Release Date

The FJ Cruiser was designed and developed as a basic, capable and affordable off-roader that specifically targeted serious off-roaders. If some of these hallmarks are preserved, the Toyota Compact Cruiser EV’s production version could be a formidable rival to the Jeep Renegade EV that could go on sale mid-decade. The LiteCruiser could be something that’s great for urban driving but also accommodates the occasional off-road adventure. TMC hasn’t revealed the exact release date or product details yet. The Compact Cruiser EV is one of the 12 new Toyota-badged EVs TMC revealed at a press event on December 14, 2021. The company plans to launch most of them “in the next few years,” President Akio Toyoda said at the event.

1 Toyota FJ Cruiser sold in the U.S. in 2021

Despite having been discontinued back in 2014, the official Toyota sales data reveals that 1 unit of the FJ Cruiser was sold in 2021 in the United States. This puts the compact SUV in the category of ‘zombie cars’ sold by dealerships long after the manufacturers discontinue the vehicle. However, the used car market for the 2014 FJ Cruiser in the U.S. is strong, with the SUV being offered at an average price of around $40,000 with about 80,000 miles on the odometer, as seen on iseecars.com. For comparison, the starting price for the Toyota FJ Cruiser in 2014 was $27,680.

However, despite its sales failure, FJ Cruiser owners 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.”

Toyota FJ Cruiser SUV side view
The FJ Cruiser takes design cues from Toyota’s iconic FJ40 4×4 utility vehicle, which was sold in the United States between 1960 and 1983. Image: Toyota

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 SUV 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 an average after 90 days of usage. Simply put, the FJ Cruiser is reliable.

In September 2011, Motor Trend‘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?

If you think that the FJ Cruiser has been axed, well, that’s not the case. An official press release from the brand (read on global.toyota) published on March 22, 2022, confirms that the FJ Cruiser is still under production. However, there were some recent adjustments made to its production in the wake of the semiconductor shortages and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. The SUV still appears on Toyota Middle East’s website, and it’s also available in South Africa and the Philippines.

Toyota FJ Cruiser at SEMA 2013
The Toyota FJ Cruiser was taken off the U.S. market in 2014 but continues to be available in Asia and Africa. Image: Toyota

The SUV is made alongside the Toyota Prado at the Hino Motors, Ltd. Hamura Plant in Japan, from where it is exported. While there might not be a direct ICE-powered successor to the 16-year-old FJ Cruiser, here’s hoping that the aforementioned Toyota LiteCruiser EV would be its spiritual future iteration!

According to a report from The Citizen, the FJ Cruiser will receive an update later this year to stay relevant in the limited markets where it is available. The South African outlet says one of the important changes in the new FJ Cruiser could be the addition of a new touchscreen infotainment system. The report says that Toyota sold 221 units of the FJ Cruiser in 2021, and in the first two months of 2022, it shipped 46 units.

Featured Image Source: Noriaki Mitsuhashi/N-RAK PHOTO AGENCY