At Cruiser Fest 2019, an annual gathering of Land Cruiser geeks from across the land, a crowd gathered to hear keynote speaking and special guest Jonathan Ward.
Ward, if you didn’t know, is the mind behind the TLC and ICON brands, masters of over the top ultra restorations for classic 4x4's and derelicts. He’s also a complete Land Cruiser nut who admits to having owned “just over 2000 land cruisers” by the numbers.
Over the course of the next hour or so Ward lays down with his experiences with Land Cruisers, Toyota corporate and his fears and expectations about the future of Land Cruiser to give some context and follow up to the shit-storm that sprung.
In this little over an hour long keynote address he talks about a lot and there is a LOT to unpack so I’m going to post the entire keynote (with permission from the Land Cruiser Heritage Museums director) and provides rough times and notes.
If you are like me you are going to be doing a lot of nodding and head-shaking
The first 15 minutes or so are a great history of his love of Land Cruisers and how he got started in Business.
Starting at 15 minutes in is what I would call the start of insight into Toyota that really sheds light onto what the history of the Land Cruiser may be.
Its where Toyota figured out that long life wasn’t as important as repeat consumerism.
About 20 minutes his experience with Toyota Corporate and his introduction with “Mr. Toyota”.
This is where it gets really interesting for me and it explains a lot about how the FJ Cruiser developed, why Toyota doesn’t understand how to market the Land Cruiser.
22 minutes in ew get into this
It’s a fascination look into Japanese culture vs American culture and it reveals a lot about Ward and his personal passions for car culture and how much of a genuine car guy he is.
Which explains why the 200 series is the way it is in the US anyway.
Around 24 minutes in is a fascinating story about the birth of the FJ Cruiser and Ward’s contribution as well as a brief and interesting history of the Bandeirante, a domestically produced Toyota Land Cruiser from Brazil that Toyota was, apparently, embarrassed by.
as far as I can work out, this is the prototype Ward references
which...I don’t love, but I love more than the FJ cruiser I think.
As a self proclaimed industrial designer Ward is obviously focused on design and longevity before mass market commoditization, thats not a surprise, but I was interested in his take on that model going forward.
As global volume wains reaching “peak car” what is going to keep business alive? Whats the next path? It’s an interesting thought.
Back to his involvement with his part of the FJ cruiser project we get a peak into his car guy status. I was nodding my head furiously when he talked about FJ Cruiser changes that many people have complained about for years.
Interesting to note that the much loved triple wipers were one of his contributions that stuck, same with the speedo design. (plus the white grill surround)
Which has a nice retro vibe.
At 39:00 minutes comes an INFURIATING story about certification, and destruction.
Which explains why his creations have crate engines from (mostly) GM instead of sticking with Toyota...its not because he didn’t want to...its because Toyota doesn’t really want to help.
I’ve also heard that the difference in price between putting an LS3 in an ICON 45 and a Toyota UR-fe (Tundra/Land Cruiser 5.7 V8) would be about an additional $100,000 for how much more difficult Toyota makes it.
At 50:00 minutes in its Q&A time. The first question is how the First FJ44 from ICON came to be. Basically these
This one is owned by the Museum founder Greg Miller
2nd question - (paraphrased) Who’s going to serve the price-point between the 4runner and ICON? Will there be a product that is built to last that I wont have to sell my house for?
at 55:30 He takes a really interesting take on what it would take to create a sub brand for this market.
My head was falling off from nodding in agreement. This is the car guy answer and I love it! But would it work? Would people pay high prices for a de-contended extremely durable product? Hard to say. I don’t think he’s wrong about lasting tribal consumers and brand loyalists. There is only so much resting on your laurels you can do before you have to get back to your roots of extreme quality and durability.
This plus the idea of Peak car meaning that quality will be more valuable in the long run that volume...its an interesting thought.
Would you buy a higher priced basic super Toyota?
I was dying here. YES!
Next Question - Did toyota consider a convertable with the FJ Cruiser?
Which provides an interesting segue to the new Ford Bronco he is currently on the design team and says is coming Q2 2020.
Im taking this to mean it’s pretty much going to have a removable top and look retro vintage. Woo!
Calling out Toyota for not having the nuts to do their own thing...ouch.
That was a lot to unpack, but man it was rich. Thanks Mr. Ward for your thoughts, Thanks to the Land Cruiser Heritage Museum and Greg Miller for allowing me a copy of this livestream.
I can’t say it brought me much joy to hear about Toyota’s lack of interest in the North American passions towards the Land Cruiser and its heritage and to hear that the Cruiser we may or may not be getting will never be the one this room full of people (and many of you) actually want.
What are your thoughts?