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Toyota A-BAT Concept – Toyota Makes a Prius Pickup?

Toyota revealed their new ‘Advanced Breakthrough Aero Truck’ (or A-BAT for short) at the 2008 Detroit Auto Show. It’s not a smaller Tacoma. Think of it more like a small Toyota Ridgeline. It’s based on a unitized platform and swallows an inline 4 cylinder engine with Toyota’s Synergy Hybrid Drive.


No, the A-BAT was not designed in the dark by Avalanche and Ridgeline ex-patriots. The A-BAT was developed by the TMS Advanced Product Strategy group and Calty. Kevin Hunter, president of Calty Design Research Inc. had this to say:
“We’ve taken Toyota’s truck heritage to a different level by envisioning a vehicle capable of maneuvering the suburbs as well as dirt roads. This compact truck is as comfortable for long commutes as it is for road trips. It can accommodate outdoor toys and home improvement supplies. Plus customers benefit from the hybrid powertrain’s low emissions and fuel economy.”


Room to Grow
The A-BAT’s Unibody platform lends itself well to suburbia and offers great ingress/egress and car-like driving dynamics (e.g. handling, ride). The 4ft. bed may only be good for bags of mulch or cement but drop down the mid-gate (sorry GM) and you get two additional feet of cargo space. If you also drop down the tailgate you get an additional 2 feet. So A-BAT owners would be able to leave Home Depot with a few standard 4X8 sheets of plywood for those do-it-yourself jobs.

Concept Features:
Concepts are always fun because the studio tends to pack as many conceivable features into the vehicle as possible and the A-BAT was no disappointment. There were common truck features like tailgate lighting for illuminating the load in the bed, sliding tie-downs and an AC Power outlet. But there were also some pretty nifty ideas imbedded into the concept that may never make it into production like the wireless internet, solar panels in the dash to assist with recharging power packs, back lit info displays and the NAV system; which by the way was retractable and portable. Some features that may show up as options on a production version included a hard drive for music, lockable drawers in the bed walls, removable storage tray beneath the rear seat and a large sliding drawer beneath the bed (accessible without opening the tailgate).

Toyota’s A-BAT will not answer the call for traditional truck buyers and I don’t think anyone who owned a Ranchero or El Camino will be standing in line at the Toyota Dealership if production begins. The A-BAT is probably for the Prius owner who wants some utility or the Tacoma owner who doesn’t use their truck enough to warrant its capabilities and is interested in efficiency.
It seems to be answering the call that Accord buyers made from the hardware store to Honda three years ago. The same sedan owners who wanted to sit up higher and drive home with sheets of plywood, 2X4’s, and bags of concrete (without orange flags and twine blowing in the wind). Owners who wanted to go hiking or fishing on the weekend without getting beat up during the week with a harsh ride and pain at the pump. Honda answered the call with the Ridgeline, which made its debut in 2006. For the few that purchased one, it fulfilled their needs when it came to suburban lifestyle activities and vehicle needs. It also ensured Honda owners would stay loyal should they need a truck.

For me this concept is more of a study in psychology than stats. First of all, even if you find the A-BAT attractive, what is it? A crossover vehicle… a pickup truck… a lifted Prius with a bed? It seemed confused and not many pickup truck buyers want to be explaining their choice to friends and neighbors. That’s okay, because I don’t think the A-BAT will be sold to traditional ‘truck guys’. Again, this vehicle is probably more suitable for the Prius owners who are interested in utility and versatility. ‘Truck guys’ are not excited about ‘unitized’ bodies and FWD or AWD systems anyway. They want a rigid frame and the ability to switch the transfer case into 4Lo (even if they never (ever) use it).
Functionality vs. Usage
Aha!!! Therein lies the rub. The Toyota A-BAT would serve most consumer needs just fine. Over the last decade we have seen a melding of cars and SUVs to create what the industry now calls Crossover SUVs. They seem to incorporate the best of both worlds. Owners get a car-like ride, fuel economy, and handling, with SUV like ride height, SUV image and great ingress/egress. Most SUV owners do not get bogged down in mud or stuck in the sand on the way to the local dry cleaners and they aren’t towing much, if at all. These benefits have led both the consumer and the industry towards Crossover SUVs.
What’s My Point?
If we’re really honest with ourselves we don’t use SUVs to their full potential, but we are obsessed with the image, versatility, and cargo space they offer. As SUVs fade from existence and Crossover SUVs emerge we may see similar changes in the Compact/Mid-Size pickup truck segment.
Toyota is making a statement with the A-BAT. It demonstrates that Toyota acknowledges the Honda Ridgeline as a ‘pickup’ and hints at the benefits to both consumers and manufacturers if these types of pickups are produced (See CAFÉ regulations for tangible manufacturer incentives).

As our fuel prices climb higher and CAFÉ regulations become even more stringent on manufacturers, our perceived image of what a pickup should be will have to evolve and our social psychology will change. In the future I can see more and more consumers leaning towards ‘crossover pickups’. Personally I don’t think the North American Market is going to go ‘batty’ for this CAFÉ dodging misfit… at least not in today’s marketplace. However, times they are a changing and you may be witnessing the very first glimpses of a new segment, the Crossover Pickup.
Honda Ridgeline (Unitized, 4Dr, V6, 4WD) average sales volume per month: 3,800 units (3,821)
Toyota Tacoma (Body on Frame, 2Dr, Reg. Cab, Ext. Cab, Dbl Cab, I4 or V6, 4X4) average sales volume per month: 15,000 units (15,057)
Toyota A-Bat (Unitized, I4 Hybrid, FWD / AWD?) -Concept-
NOTE: Yes, it’s a Toyota, but the Ridgeline is a Honda and it isn’t exactly setting the world on fire. But for 2006 I do think the Ridgeline was ahead of it’s time.


  • Pat Richardson| October 16, 2008 at 8:25 pm

    I hope this is available by the time my Subaru Baja is due for replacement. Since the Baja has been dropped, I’m at a loss as to what my next pickup will be. (My other car is a 2006 Prius.)

  • Camilo| August 4, 2008 at 5:44 pm

    I have a 2002 Dodge Dakota that never made anywhere near the epa estimated mpg on the sales sticker. The Dodge has also had suspension problems and the rear diffferential replaced. The Prius I bought my wife in 2005 gets an mpg pretty close to what they advertised, has a comfortable ride and is extremely reliable. I’ll be first in line for a company that puts out a superior product like Toyota. My only problem will be choosing between the A-BAT and the 100mpg Prius that’s supposed to come out in 2010.

  • Bill Johnson| May 30, 2008 at 5:31 pm

    I bought a 2001 Prius and now have a 2006. I have owned Cads,Buicks,Fords,Jeeps, Pontiacs,Hondas and many other cars and trucks. The Prius has been the best vehicle I have ever owned. I get an honist 44 mpg in city and 55.5 on the highway. When Toyota produces tge A-Bat (please change the name) I will join the line at the dealership to get one.

  • Rob Lederer| March 19, 2008 at 12:53 pm

    I’ve worked in the trades for 30yrs, (GC licensed for 15). I’m a landlord now and always have a project going, but these days I hire subs for almost everything. I make regular runs to the lumber yard and the hardware store for smaller loads. The Abat would be perfect for me.

  • Dennis Brislawn| March 15, 2008 at 7:49 pm

    I am intrigued by the tech and by the utility for daily use. I drive a heavily modified Grand Cherokee as I am in am in SAR (Search & Rescue)- I love it except for very poor gas mileage. Wife has Prius which gets really great gas mileage. I could use a daily driver like this to span the gap…

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