What began as an idea in Canada’s north-west has become a passion at a workshop in Queenstown, where New Zealander Malcolm King is converting North America’s Toyota Tundra pick-up trucks to right-hand drive.
Not just any Tundra, but the top spec Crewmax Platinum. Because the big part-time four-wheel-drive critter comes equipped from Canada with a braked towing capacity of 5 tonne – 1.5 tonne more than the 3.5-tonne capacity of mainstream NZ utes such as the Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger.
Not only that but, like the Hilux and Ranger, the Tundra needs only a Warrant of Fitness and not a heavy duty Certificate of Fitness, which is required by vehicles with a gross vehicle mass (GVM) of over 3.5 tonne.
The Tundra’s GVM is around 3.2 tonne. “There is nothing in New Zealand on a Warrant of Fitness that can tow five tonne,” said King. “I’m bringing something into the market that isn’t here.”
And therein is what King believes is both a gap in the market and, more importantly, a market in the gap.
“I’ve got two Tundras already on the go here,” he said. “It’s mostly about the tow package on the Platinum. In Canada, you have to order it – it comes with the digital and manual brake controller on the dash.”
The double-cab Crewmax Platinum runs a 5.7-litre petrol V8 delivering 280kW at 5600rpm and 544Nm at 3600rpm. Gearbox is a six-speed automatic, strengthened, like the rear differential and many other mechanicals, to handle heavy loads.
King, aged 34, says he has been dreaming about converting Tundras for the NZ market for the past 10 years, since he returned here after working at a Toyota outfit in Quesnel, British Columbia, a city roughly halfway between Vancouver and the province’s border with Alaska.
“I got to experience first hand the reliability of the Toyota Tundra,” he said. The temperature in Quesnel this week has been around minus 20deg Celsius. It’s getting warmer – “normal” at this time of year, says King, is around minus 33deg C.
He has a registered Canadian address and a Canadian driver’s licence (his wife is Canadian) and buys Tundras privately from a Toyota outlet in Vancouver. “That way it’s compliant with Toyota Canada and America,” he said.
He says his Queenstown company, Tundra Ltd, will deliver the converted models anywhere in NZ for $139,000 plus GST. He offers free servicing for the first 50,000km and a fixed-price deal to 100,000km.
Why buy from Canada and not the United States? “Because you get a lot more bang for your buck – like higher spec features,” King said.
“And by the time you do the shipping and exchange rate it’s actually cheaper bringing them out of Canada than America.”
King is a product of Toyota NZ’s network. He did a technician’s apprenticeship in Alexandra in the early 2000s, before going out on his own and winning back-to-back nationwide excellence awards, sponsored by Toyota NZ. He went to Canada in 2007. All told, he’s been working on Toyotas for 18 years.
Tundra Ltd is in no way related or associated with Toyota NZ. “Therefore no goodwill or assistance is to be expected from Toyota NZ,” King said. It says the same thing on his website – www.tundra.nz