Home » The 2024 Toyota Tacoma’s Chief Engineer Explains Why The Truck Needed A Hideous Air Dam To Fix The Awful Seating Position

The 2024 Toyota Tacoma’s Chief Engineer Explains Why The Truck Needed A Hideous Air Dam To Fix The Awful Seating Position

Taco Dam Ts
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You’ve all seen it. That gigantic black air dam jutting from the front fascia of the all-new 2024 Toyota Tacoma. The thing has to be at least six inches tall, and it totally ruins the look of an otherwise significantly improved frontal design.

I spoke with the new Toyota Tacoma’s chief engineer, Sheldon Brown, and asked about why this was needed. He openly admitted that he is “not a fan,” but that it was necessary for a number of reasons, one having to do with Toyota making improving the old truck’s oft-maligned seating position a “top priority.” Here, allow me (and him) to explain. I have the full interview in this video below:

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I’ll be the first to admit that, when the 2024 Toyota Tacoma debuted, I couldn’t get past this debut photo taken by our Mercedes Streeter without adding an editor’s note:

Tacoma Grab

I’m not the only one who thought this, as commenter Spectre6000 wrote:

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I’m 100% with DT on the chin dam. Holy afterthought, Batman! It’s like someone grabbed a sheet of plastic out of a bin and stapled it on for testing, then never gave it another thought!

Here’s another comment from MH7:

I must be one of the few people who liked the design of the current Tacoma-a big appeal was that it didn’t have an ankle scraping air dam or needlessly complicated design, it just looked like a simple effective truck.

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And here are perhaps the harshest two comments:

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Yikes — “hideous” and “cow catcher”!

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You may think that the Toyota Tacoma’s Chief Engineer, Sheldon Brown, would defend the air dam on his product, but actually, while he did back up the decisions that went into including it on the truck, he readily admitted: “I’m not a fan.”

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Still, the air dam is there for a good reason, including Toyota’s focus on improving the outgoing truck’s awkward seating position — a problem described in the GoldSteading Overland YouTube video above.

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“We wanted to address some of the foibles of the outgoing truck, one of those was the seating position — we wanted to raise the heel-to-hip, but we also wanted to make sure we had good head clearance. So we’ve actually grown the cabin slightly… also treadwidth extension… while door-to-door [distance] stays the same…with the overfenders the vehicle has gotten a bit wider. As a result of that, our effective area has become greater.”

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What does that mean, practically? Well, the larger cabin that improves passenger comfort also comes with an increase in something called “Vehicle Demand Energy,” or “road load” as Brown calls it. This is effectively the power needed to propel the vehicle down the road, and can be quantified in terms of something called “coast down coefficients.” I won’t get into that right now, because the important thing is this: A bigger frontal area means more drag, as the drag force equation points out:

Screen Shot 2023 11 26 At 9.44.06 Pm

Notice how drag increases linearly with frontal area and drag coefficient. So if you increase your frontal area by X percent by increasing the cab size, and everything else stays the same, then you can expect your drag to go up by X percent. This, obviously, is not what Toyota wants — it wants to have its cake (a bigger cabin that allows for a more comfortable seating position) and eat it, too (i.e. not have to sacrifice road load and the associated fuel economy/emissions). Doing that means reducing the overall drag coefficient to compensate for the larger frontal area, and that means adding that hideous air dam.

“[Aero drag] is a contributor to road load… you can’t discount road load, and that road load really goes up when we’re talking about high-speed steady state… we wanted to really keep our aggressive styling… we wanted to keep the big shoulders on the truck. We really thought that was going to be important for stabilizing the truck to have that wide stance, so we had to look at different areas to improve aero,” Brown told me, saying the air dam really smooths the flow of air under the vehicle – an area that is typically extremely unaerodynamic.

The idea is: If you can push air to flow either around or under rather high-drag bits of the truck’s underbody (like that huge rear axle), then you can reduce the vehicle’s overall drag coefficient — in this case by “20 counts,” or 0.02 points of drag — a humongous figure in the world of aerodynamics.

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Brown then got into the design of the air dam, noting the large holes on each side — one for a tie-down and one a recovery point for off-road snatch-jobs. He noted the holes are wide to allow for towing jobs at an angle that might pull a rope off to the side.

Why Not Use A Deployable/Retractable Air Dam?

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In commenter Jake Harsh’s comment that I showed above, he wrote: “Please tell me that you can push a button to suck it up and out of harm’s way,” referring to what’s known in the industry as a deployable air dam or “active air dam” or “retractable air dam.” Such a device acts like air suspension in that it gives the best of all worlds: It provides good aerodynamics on the highway, but good ground clearance when going off-road.

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“Now the question becomes ‘We could have done a retractable air dam,’ that’s the other way that we could have done this,” Brown told me. “We have to be careful with that one because you can see how large this [air dam] is — we gotta tuck that up somewhere. We gotta make sure that gets up and out of the way.”

As you can see in the image below, that air dam cannot fold backwards, as the short overhang means it would run into the tire. It could retract straight up like the F-150 air dam in the video above, but remember, this thing is the full width of the truck — that would require a lot of packaging space, which is needed for the cooling module, among other important bits.

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“Front overhang is critically important, especially in the compact series — we really focus on approach angle… The other issue is, once we do tuck it up, we gotta tuck it way up [because]… people do take it off-road, and if you ever…damage that part, it is an emissions compliance part, you’d want to make sure that gets repaired, and candidly you wouldn’t like the replacement cost.”

In other words, an active air dam is a part of the truck’s emissions package, so if it fails, unfortunately, you may have to replace it, and it won’t be cheap.

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“So we thought a better way to do that was to put this particular air dam on. I mean, I’m certainly not a fan. But there are the realities… and the tradeoffs that we are often forced to do.”

How To Take The Air Dam Off In Just A Few Minutes

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The good news is that the air dam — which does not come on the off-road Tacoma trims — does come off via nine hex bolts with Phillips heads at their center, and per Brown, it doesn’t take long. “By the time it takes you to air down your tires, you’ve removed [this part],” he told me. Here’s a look at one of those nine bolts:

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Kind of a bummer that you need a socket or screwdriver to get the air dam off, right? Why not make that air dam easily removable like the one on the 2008-2010 Jeep Grand Cherokee? Check it out:

Screenshot 2023 11 28 At 9.27.59 Am

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Well, I asked that very question.

“Why did we not do the hand twist? A couple of different reasons… There are a couple of areas where we are a little bit tight… you gotta be able to get the whole hand up in there… so there was a hand space concern,” Brown told me. “The prevailing issue is: We’re pretty adamant that these things have to take a pretty good licking.”

“We wanna make sure they stay on the truck, so we use mechanical fasteners through a metal J-clip that is typically fastened to something rigid and solid. That makes sure these things don’t tear off — if you hit a snow bank… they’re higher than any curb stones so you shouldn’t [hit] any curbstones, but we expect them to take quite a beating and… stay on,” he said before kicking the air dam multiple times to prove his point.

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“So when we started looking at some of the stuff that was easy to do and twist… we just didn’t get the retention value that we got out of the good ol’ fashioned mechanical fastener.”

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And thus, you now know what went into Toyota’s decision to add that hideous air dam to the new Tacoma, why it has huge holes in it (to allow for sideways recovery), why there’s no retractable function (packaging space in the front overhang, cost, potential damage), and why Toyota decided to use regular ol’ bolts.

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Was the air dam literally a direct result of trying to fix the outgoing truck’s awkward seating position? No, but it was a part of a chain reaction that resulted from that choice — part of an overall aerodynamic package that all works together to attempt to minimize drag (some of which was a result of a larger frontal area) while maintaining a rugged overall look.

You can read the full review of the 2024 Toyota Tacoma here.

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MushroomGlue
MushroomGlue
4 months ago

Is there a particular advantage to an air dam like this over an undertray fairing? I presume the air dam is cheaper (less material), but an undertray fairing would surely serve a similar purpose (reducing turbulent flow under the truck) without impacting the looks and off-road capability (I’d guess a decently sturdy and selectively reinforced undertray would probably help off-road in a similar manner to a skidplate?). I get that it probably wouldn’t be able to help over the full length (it can’t really fix issues as much around the front and rear suspension) but I presume the effect of the air dam falls off quite a bit towards the back of the truck anyway?

BobWellington
BobWellington
4 months ago

Why does the truck have to be so ugly?

Don Mynack
Don Mynack
4 months ago

My one word reaction to that air dam – “DAMMMM!!”

Manuel Verissimo
Manuel Verissimo
4 months ago

Yay my equation graphic is useful!

Lardo
Lardo
4 months ago

what a pathetic bunch of bullshit. and he is not deserving of his name. The real sheldon brown was a bike genius. this guy is full of shit. the air dam is so the seat can be higher? I’m sure the taco fan boys will eat it up.

Christo Arvanitis
Christo Arvanitis
4 months ago
Reply to  Lardo

I’ve been meaning to comment on his name. But, yeah, THE Sheldon Brown was a legend. About 30 years ago I was on a ride with him out of Harris Cyclery (West Newton MA) and he was riding “his favorite bike”. I can’t recall the make but it was from the 1880s as I remember and had an iron frame as I recall. Can’t remember if he was rolling the wooden wheels or not. But, yeah, a legend. And a gem of a guy… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheldon_Brown_(bicycle_mechanic)

Nico
Nico
4 months ago
Reply to  Lardo

Guess you were too lazy to read the article…

“We wanted to address some of the foibles of the outgoing truck, one of those was the seating position — we wanted to raise the heel-to-hip, but we also wanted to make sure we had good head clearance. So we’ve actually grown the cabin slightly… also treadwidth extension… while door-to-door [distance] stays the same…with the overfenders the vehicle has gotten a bit wider. As a result of that, our effective area has become greater.” – Sheldon Brown

Was the air dam literally a direct result of trying to fix the outgoing truck’s awkward seating position? No, but it was a part of a chain reaction that resulted from that choice — part of an overall aerodynamic package that all works together to attempt to minimize drag (some of which was a result of a larger frontal area) while maintaining a rugged overall look.” – David Tracy

Theotherotter
Theotherotter
4 months ago

That’s kind of a clickbaity headline for an article about an airdam that’s there to improve aero.

I haven’t driven anything newer than a 1999 Taco, so I didn’t know they were still like this, but every Toyota truck I’ve ever been in had me feeling like I was sitting on the floor. Loved the trucks, but wasn’t a fan of the seating position.

Phuzz
Phuzz
4 months ago
Reply to  Theotherotter

The article does a good job of explaining how they had to improve the aero as an end result of a chain reaction from changing the seating position.

Josh Turner
Josh Turner
4 months ago

“ while maintaining a rugged overall look”

I mean, you can have a rugged truck with a giant bib or you can have a slightly less rugged looking truck with no bib. I get why Toyota chose the first path but man it would have been nice if they’d started to move away from the faux mil spec styling.

Danny Zabolotny
Danny Zabolotny
4 months ago

This is my first time seeing the dam (I’ve somehow managed to avoid reading anything about the new Tacoma til now). I don’t mind the dam, it makes the truck look a bit lower. I bet it would look cool if you put the truck on some coilovers, lowered it, and added an extra lip to the dam. You can see where my mind’s at.

Joey Driver
Joey Driver
4 months ago

I’m 5’9″ but only have a 29 inseam so the Gen 3 seating is fine for my short thighs. I also prefer the access cab that has rear doors, the SR with a V6 and 278hp, and jump seats in a unplanned passenger pinch. I don’t feel motivated to trade for a 24 and lose 50 HP, 2 doors and jump seats. Doesn’t make sense for me.

Oldskool
Oldskool
4 months ago

They made it easily removable with regular ol bolts. Sounds to me like they were under a crunch to get their fleet numbers above a certain mpg threshold. So this did it. What happens after it leaves the lot they couldn’t care less. I bet most of these are coming off, sooner or later.

If you don’t need the ground clearance to do truck things, there is a lot more efficient way to go. Drive a car. But I think it’s fair to say that the majority of people who drive a full size truck, drive it because they want to, regardless of a couple mpg one way or the other. I’m sure there are some, but not many, who are like “god I hate driving this behemoth gas hog, I wish I could just drive a car”.

I used to try and save every bit of gas, out of pure necessity. A lawn edging airdam really made a difference. So did other aero treatments. But here’s the thing. When I was driving smartly to save gas, they made a world of difference, especially the airdam. But if I was just driving with the herd… stomp on it, jam on the brake, over and over, keep up with the speeders… no amount of aero gains could make up for that.

LTDScott
LTDScott
4 months ago

Huh, I thought I was alone in not liking the seating position of the old Tacoma. I’m 6’3″ and they always felt like they were mounted too low to the floor, like a sports car or something, requiring my legs to be more straight out than I’d prefer. Glad they addressed that.

RC
RC
4 months ago

That makes sure these things don’t tear off — if you hit a snow bank

I’ll wager a six pack of watered-down Utah beer that I’m going to pull one of these off of either Hole in the Rock or House Rock Valley Road before the end of 2024.

Somebody who’s better at geometry than I am can probably indicate what this will do to the entry angle of these trucks, but these are going to get massacred on the washouts that are a feature of the southwest.

Oldskool
Oldskool
4 months ago
Reply to  RC

Agree. Giving it a good kick is a whole lot more tame than using the truck’s power (or inertia) to push through an object.

Joey Driver
Joey Driver
4 months ago
Reply to  RC

If you are in one of the TRD off road editions they will not have the chin strap

El Jefe de Barbacoa
El Jefe de Barbacoa
4 months ago
Reply to  RC

If that’s the case, just take the damn thing off. No one’s forcing you to keep it on if you need the clearance.

Space
Space
4 months ago
Reply to  RC

Can confirm. I saw someone’s ripped off air dam When I went to white pocket near House Rock Valley Road last month.

121gwats
121gwats
4 months ago

Stick some fog lights in the air dam holes and you’ve got yourself a street truck with a sick body kit! Orrrr, just remove it and toss in the trash immediately.. One of those two options for sure.

PaysOutAllNight
PaysOutAllNight
4 months ago

This would make a whole lot more sense and work a lot better if there were snap-in covers for those recovery point ports.

Don’t like snap-in covers, put a few cheap fasteners on each. But if you’re going to dam the front, cover those huge holes when you don’t need them!

Why half-ass it, Toyota?

TXJeepGuy
TXJeepGuy
4 months ago

If the goal was to decease the frontal area, they should have tried replacing the 2 front wheels with 4 smaller wheels.

10001010
10001010
4 months ago
Reply to  TXJeepGuy

I believe the Stig was just pondering that very thing

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
4 months ago

Am I the only one who made the connection with the late bicycle guru Sheldon Brown https://www.sheldonbrown.com/

Dead Elvis, Inc.
Dead Elvis, Inc.
4 months ago
Reply to  Slow Joe Crow

Definitely not!

Silent But Deadly
Silent But Deadly
4 months ago
Reply to  Slow Joe Crow

Nope…

86-GL
86-GL
4 months ago
Reply to  Slow Joe Crow

Same. Awesome resource.

Elanosaurous
Elanosaurous
4 months ago
Reply to  Slow Joe Crow

I wonder if Toyota also has a Grant Peterson in their employ…

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
4 months ago
Reply to  Elanosaurous

That would be funny

06dak
06dak
4 months ago

Just like most other things Tacoma, it’s finally getting a “feature” that all the other trucks have had for years.

I mean, the Colorado/Canyon had this in their 2015 redesign.

TXJeepGuy
TXJeepGuy
4 months ago
Reply to  06dak

Yeah, I had a 16 and a 21 Colorado. Decided to remove it from the 21. Never seemed to really mess with the MPG, and took me about 10 minutes to remove

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
4 months ago

As a 6’4” fella that has never fit in prior gen Taco’s, I’ll take the trade off of a silly air dam.

Fourmotioneer
Fourmotioneer
4 months ago

Some of your better writing, David. Nice work

Thomas Metcalf
Thomas Metcalf
4 months ago

I didn’t mind the old Taco’s seating position. It was kind of more ‘sportscar’ like to have the seat closer to the floor. I also have a bad right knee and find it more comfortable to sit with my legs extended in front of me than bent at almost 90 degrees

Rabob Rabob
Rabob Rabob
4 months ago
Reply to  Thomas Metcalf

I’m 6’1 and my Tacoma feels fine. Never understood the complaints – I just chalked it up to the typical moaning contrarians anytime Toyota is mentioned. I commuted by sport bike for 10 years so anything feels comfortable though.

Last edited 4 months ago by Rabob Rabob
Thomas Metcalf
Thomas Metcalf
4 months ago
Reply to  Rabob Rabob

I am pretty much the same height as you. I drive an MGB in the summer and it is pretty damn comfortable. The seat is low and there is plenty of leg room to stretch out. I have only ridden sport bikes a couple of times and my knee is not a fan of them.

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
4 months ago

Yes it’s silly, but if it just takes some bolts to remove it (like a lot of people will) then I think it’s worth the effort if Toyota was able to fix my only real reason why I didn’t want to buy one before. The old Toyota seating position was real shitty for longer drives, especially for lankier folks.

I’m overall a big fan of the new Tacoma.

Tybalt
Tybalt
4 months ago

I am not the target audience of the Toyota Tacoma. But I read, with rapt attention, an article about the Tacoma’s air dam. If that’s not a testament to David Tracy’s writing and the Autopian’s nerdish obsessiveness over seemingly minute vehicular details (ahem, Torch’s taillights), I don’t know what is. Stuff like this is why a membership is worth your hard-earned money.

Keep up the great work y’all.

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
4 months ago
Reply to  David Tracy

He’s right–all y’all make reading about the arcane, the trivial, the inconsequential, the boring, the invisible, absolutely gripping. It’s uncanny. I gave zero shits about trucks, off-roading, jeeps, or airdams, yet I read every word you write. <3

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