Dissecting the Million-Mile Tundra

Toyota engineers couldn’t wait to take apart Victor Sheppard’s million-mile Tundra — what they found was remarkable
by Dan Nied
May/June 2017
Dissecting the Million-Mile Tundra
Big Vic and the Million-Mile Tundra
You can imagine the eagerness of Toyota's engineers and technicians after they got their hands on the million-mile Tundra owned by Victor Sheppard (above).
When it comes to Victor Sheppard’s million-mile Tundra, Toyota engineers can’t help but repeat the same phrase over and over.
 
A truck that was driven the equivalent of 24 trips around the planet is still running?
 
“You just don’t get a million-mile truck every day,” says Tundra Executive Program Manager Kevin Gilleo. “This is incredible.”
 

Fact Finding
Parts of Sheppard's Tundra are scattered across the United States and Japan, but most of the body resides at TMNA R&D in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where technicians and engineers have a chance to study every angle of the car. Photos by Brian Watkins


The rare opportunity to tear down and examine Sheppard's 2007 Tundra was too good to pass up for the engineers at the Toyota Motor North American Research & Development (TMNA R&D) center, formerly TTC, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where it was designed. After getting the truck in Louisiana, where it was sold, in October — and giving Sheppard a brand new Tundra — engineers took it on a victory lap to Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Texas, in San Antonio, where it was built. 
 
Then it went to Ann Arbor to find the answer to the question: What happens to a truck that’s been driven 1 million miles? And, moreover, what can we learn that will benefit our customers?
 
Months later, Toyota’s technical brain-trust is still amazed at one thing: Sheppard’s Tundra does not look like it went a million miles.
 
“This is how I’d expect a Tundra with 100,000 miles on it to look,” says Frank DiMaggio, analyst at the Toyota Collaborative Benchmarking Center. “But this one has a million.”
 
What They Found
 
Sheppard’s Tundra has now been dissected, with Toyota and suppliers analyzing different parts. The engine is being examined at Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Alabama, plant where it was built. But the bulk of the body sits in Ann Arbor.
 

In Pieces
Analyst Frank DiMaggio, studying Sheppard's Tundra here, was shocked that the truck held up so well over the course of a million miles.


 
In all, more than 100 people are studying the truck, using the normal, detailed teardown process. Gilleo says the Design and Evaluation teams should complete a parts check on the engine, bed, transmission and seats this year.
 
The key to getting to a million miles — especially in the shockingly brief eight-year time frame it took Sheppard — was regular maintenance. Once his truck started hitting high mileage, Sheppard was visiting Greg LeBlanc Toyota in Houma, Louisiana, about once a month for oil changes and other small tune-ups.
 
But that was it. The truck that came to TMNA R&D in October was the exact same one that left the Greg LeBlanc Toyota lot in 2007. With the exact same components, including the engine and transmission. Yes, they were used hard, but over the course of a million miles, they never needed to be replaced.
 
“The interesting thing, as we start our design for the next Tundra, is what we can learn from this truck,” says Tundra Chief Engineer Mike Sweers. “My biggest interests are the spring seats, the bed and the front seat. Even things like the door trim that he’s grabbing every day and closing.”
 
Turns out all those things held up remarkably well. The driver’s seat, which Sheppard regularly slept in as a hotshot driver, had a small tear in the back. Everything else looked good.
 
A Better Tundra

So how will Sheppard’s Tundra ultimately help customers? It’s simple, really: If something holds up for a million miles, keep doing it. If something can’t last a million miles, rethink it and make it better.
 
“We’re going to take what we learned from this truck, what we’ve done right, and keep doing that right,” Sweers says. “But we can see areas on the body where we can improve. Maybe we had some weld breakage, so how can we strengthen those areas? Can we add a couple more spot welds? Can we move some spots welds? Can we change the shape of a bracket? We can use this to make the next Tundra better from the information we’ve learned from this truck.”
 
And, let’s be honest here: This truck is a source of pride for everyone involved.
 
“This really falls back to what we want to do from a quality standpoint,” Gilleo says. “There’s a North American customer expectation on our trucks. People buy Tundras based on that expectation, so we need to meet that. This vehicle was designed and built in North America for the North American market, and it lasted a million miles. That’s pretty special.”
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