Why Is The Hilux Not Sold In America?

In this edition of Car Facts, we take a look at why the Hilux is not sold in America – let’s look at why this legendary vehicle isn’t available to American and Canadian buyers:

What is the dictionary definition of reliable?

According to Miriam Webster, it is:

1: suitable or fit to be relied on : dependable. 2 : giving the same result on successive trials.

However, it would probably be easier for them to change the definition to “Toyota Hilux”.

If you want a vehicle that will take you to Hell and back – and still be in one piece – then the Hilux is one of the best options on the market.

Toyota is famed for building reliable and durable cars (learn more here about what makes Toyota cars so reliable) and perhaps no car better exemplifies this than the Toyota Hilux.

If you’re a fan of classic Top Gear then you’ll probably remember the segment where Jeremy Clarkson tried – and failed – to destroy a Toyota Hilux. Although the Hilux has always been well-regarded to those in the know, it was this segment from Top Gear that really helped to cement the Hilux’s reputation for absolute dependability and durability.

There’s a reason these cars are the favored transport of people who need endlessly dependable, reliable transport that can go anywhere – farmers, tradespeople, ISIS members (no seriously) … if you need a supremely practical that you can bet the farm on to get you where you need to go, then the Hilux has got to be a good option.

You would think, therefore, that a car so robust and durable as the Toyota Hilux would be sold in the United States – a place of rugged landscapes, challenging conditions and hard-working people who would put such a truck through it’s paces and make it work the way it was intended.

However, you cannot buy the Toyota Hilux in America – at least not any more.

In this edition of Car Facts, we are going to explore why the Toyota Hilux is not sold in the United States.

It seems a bit crazy that one of the most robust and dependable cars in the world isn’t sold in the North American market … so why is this the case?

This is a pickup truck that can go anywhere – apart from America, so why is that?

Why Can’t You Buy A Toyota Hilux In America?

If you’d like to know why the Toyota Hilux is not available in America, you can blame chickens.

Specifically, you can blame the “Chicken Tax”.

In 1963 President Johnson enacted a 25% trade tariff/tax on a variety of imported goods from Europe, including light trucks – this was in response to European markets imposing a similar tariff on chicken meat imported to Europe from America (hence the name “Chicken Tax”).

Without wishing to bore you with the specifics of trade tariff history, the Chicken Tax basically made it uneconomical for car manufacturers to export light trucks – such as the Hilux – to the American market.

The objective of the tax was to protect American manufacturers (primarily the “Big 3” – GM/Ford/Chrysler) from potential undercutting and competition via imported light trucks from foreign automakers.

But Hold On A Minute – Toyota Did Sell The Hilux In The United States At One Point

Correct, Toyota did sell the Hilux in America up until 1995, where it was replaced with the Tacoma.

The Hilux was often referred to in America simply as the ‘Toyota Pickup’, and there used to be a decent number of them on the roads.

So if Toyota had been selling the Hilux up until that point despite the Chicken Tax, why did they replace it with the Tacoma? Why stop a good thing?

In the 1980s, the United States introduced legislation that made the import of cars into the US market more challenging (you can learn more about this in our article on why the Nissan Skyline is illegal in America).

Long story short, these legislative changes made it more difficult and costly for Toyota to sell the Hilux in America – and this came on top of the challenges already imposed by the dreaded Chicken Tax.

This combination of factors provided the impetus for Toyota to develop a light truck that was more suited to the American and Canadian markets.

Compared with the Hilux, the Tacoma offered superior ride quality and comfort, as well as better on-road performance and safety features – at the expense of durability and payload capacity.

In many markets, the Hilux is seen as the perfect vehicle for agricultural use, construction work and off-roading. Because of this, Hiluxes were often sold to businesses (including farmers) who cared more about durability, payload capacity and off-road capabilities than any creature comforts. In New Zealand, where we are based, the Hilux continues to be one of the top selling business/commercial vehicles, despite other trucks (or “utes” as they are called here) providing better driving dynamics and creature comforts.

However, in the North American market, “light trucks” (i.e. smaller utility vehicles) are less frequently used as exclusively commercial vehicles – North American buyers preferring to purchase larger trucks for commercial use as agricultural vehicles, “tradesman trucks” etc.

The Hilux sat in an unusual segment for the American market. It was too small to be a proper commercial/agricultural vehicle, and most domestic buyers were starting to prefer SUV vehicles, like the 4Runner that is based on the Hilux.

Compounding this is the fact that the Hilux performs best with diesel engines, whereas the American market tends to have a preference for larger gasoline engines instead (at least when it comes to vehicles used for personal transportation – whereas in countries like Australia and New Zealand it is not unusual at all for a family to purchase a diesel car for everyday use).

According to our research, Toyota doesn’t currently sell any diesel-powered vehicles in the United States due to customer preferences and emissions control requirements. Any Hilux enthusiast will tell you that these trucks work best with the diesel engine options, and so this is another check in the box against the Hilux for the American market.

Other Reasons Why The Hilux Isn’t Sold In America

While the combination of the Chicken Tax/tariff issue, as well as market preferences are the primary reasons why the Hilux is not sold in the American market, there are some other considerations as well:

  • Emissions – Hiluxes have always been fairly “agricultural” in terms of their powerplants (particularly the older models). In markets like Australia and New Zealand, the vast majority of Hiluxes are diesels. For example the current Hilux is only sold in New Zealand with a turbo-diesel engine, which would probably not be compliant with emissions/pollution regulations in many American states. In fact, Toyota specifically states on their American website that they do not sell diesel-powered vehicles in the United States due to emissions requirements. Some believe that the diesel-focused nature of the Hilux engine lineup is another reason why the truck is no longer sold in America, where petrol/gasoline engines are more popular.
  • Safety – America has always tended to have stricter car safety standards than many other markets. While newer Hiluxes are considered safe cars in the markets where they are sold, older ones were definitely not so good in the safety department. It would cost Toyota a bomb to certify the Hilux to US safety standards, and might require modifications to the vehicle. Safety issues and lack of compliance are one of the reasons the Hilux is also not sold in the Canadian market.

Conclusion – Why Is The Toyota Hilux Not Sold In America?

To recap, the origins of the Hilux’s disappearance from the North American market have their roots in LBJ’s “Chicken Tax” of the early 1960s.

In response to European tariffs, the United States placed tariffs on imported “light trucks” (amongst other goods).

This made the importation of such vehicles more expensive, and less profitable for manufacturers like Toyota.

However, Toyota did continue to bring in the Hilux as the ‘Toyota Pickup’ for a number of years.

Import laws further developed in the 1980s, aimed to strengthen the domestic US car industry and also improve safety standards.

This change – in combination with shifting customer preferences towards greater comfort and ‘on-road’ performance from light trucks that are used primarily in North America as personal transportation and not as commercial vehicles – gave Toyota the impetus to replace the Hilux in the mid 1990s with the Tacoma.

This was taken further in the late 1990s with the introduction of the Tundra – a full-size pickup.

Basically, the Hilux was no longer suitable for the demands of the North American market, and because of legislation it was prohibitively difficult to sell these vehicles at a profit – necessitating the development of alternative models like the Tacoma.

Other potential factors include the role of emissions testing and standards, safety concerns, and the fact that the Hilux works best as a diesel-powered vehicle, but diesel is not so common on light trucks sold in the United States.

It’s for these reasons that the Toyota Hilux is not sold in America, and is unlikely to be sold any time in the future.

What do YOU think about the Toyota Hilux? If you’re based in North America, would you buy one if you had the chance? Do you think that the Hilux would be a popular seller if it were able to be imported once again?

Let us know in the comment section below! All opinions are welcome.

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