Why the Toyota Champ Could Become the Champion Of the U.S. Truck Market

The truck market here in the U.S. is a rapidly expanding space that has a massive void to be filled by auto manufacturers.

If you take a few minutes during campus rush hours and pause on LomaLand Drive, you’ll notice several mid-sized pickups. This morning, on Jan. 26, I did just that and saw several Toyota Tacomas and 4Runners, along with GM’s Chevy Colorado, pass on by.

Part of the Loma surf culture is having a cheap, simple, yet reliable truck that students can beat on; for all their outdoor lifestyle needs.

Even if students do not live this culture out in every aspect of their lives, say they don’t surf on a regular basis, or camp regularly, there is still an aspect of the Loma microcosm that many people seem to have hands in, and it’s looking the part of an outdoorsman.

I am guilty of this. Between my time abroad last semester and a busy schedule, I recently realized that it has been close to seven months since my last camping trip. I intend to change that (and I would encourage you to do the same). 

There’s a new small truck from Toyota called the Hilux: Champ (named after Toyota’s foreign market mid-sized truck), that would fulfill the role of a simple, affordable and dependable truck, that students like myself are looking for.

Toyota Tacomas from the early 2000s (and other mid-sized pickups) are selling like hotcakes; with current-year production models suffering dealer markups. Sources like  MSN’s “2024 Toyota Tacoma Dealer Markups Are Officially a Thing” and Road & Track’s “Dealer Markups Are Bullsh*t” indicate prices are near five or (in some cases) 10 thousand dollars over MSRP. 

Many folks are getting fed up with these exorbitant rip-offs that many dealers are creating.

The untapped market here in the States sits below large full-sized pickup models (like the Ford F-150, and Toyota Tundra), and below; mid-sized pickup models (like the aforementioned Toyota Tacoma and the Nissan Frontier).

It’s important to note that most car companies feature a mid-sized pickup as a part of their current production line-up. The concept of a smaller “micro truck” or as colloquially referred to as a “KEI truck,” has been a staple of car manufacturers’ production lines outside of the U.S., filling the role of a cheap, reliable and capable vehicle for the masses.

 According to Motor Trend, Toyota’s latest entry into the European, African and Asian markets was released at the end of 2023 (to the Eastern Asian markets) and is to be on all others except the U.S. by 2025) under the name The Hilux: Champ.

According to Auto Blog, the trucks come with several powerplant options from a 2.4-liter inline-four diesel motor, to a 2.0-liter or 2.7-liter inline-four gasoline-powered motor. These engines all sit between 130-150 horsepower, making for a reasonable amount of power from a reliable, smaller truck, for the less wealthy outdoorsman.

The key thing behind these trucks, other than their affordability and expected reliability (based on Toyota’s overwhelmingly positive reliability track record), is the truck’s modularity. As reported in major automotive publications, like Motor Trend, the key selling point to the larger American market is the potential personalization, and optioning available to prospective buyers.

As Americans, we don’t usually like to admit it, but the majority of us tend to want the nicest and newest things in our vehicles. This truck would give dealerships and sellers the option of marketing the same base model trucks to totally different buyers. A buyer searching for the highest trim level optioning on their truck could go to the same dealer and order from the same stock of trucks; as could another buyer who wants the cheapest, most simple truck possible for their money (about 13,000 dollars).

These same buyers could also be on the market for used Toyota Tacomas or 4Runners, with five to 10-year-old examples (on places like Facebook marketplace) typically selling used for between 10-15 thousand dollars. So, instead of them buying a used truck with 100,000 miles or so, they could buy a brand new one straight from Toyota, for the same cost.

Now there is one glaring reason why this truck will likely never sell new on our market. The reason is that these trucks are not made to current American safety standards.  They don’t come with airbags, which means they will likely; not see the light of day here in the States.

However, I believe that once they can be privately imported, they may carve out a niche for themselves as simple pickups. I believe this is likely to happen given the recent popularity (visible online) of KEI trucks being imported to the U.S.

To those of you looking for a cheap reliable truck, keep scouring Facebook Marketplace and eBay, you just might run into a good deal on an old Tacoma.