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Monday, December 4, 2023
Dec. 4, 2023

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In conflicts around the world, the Toyotas of War rule


Editor’s note: Pacific NW magazine’s weekly Backstory provides a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the writer’s process or an extra tidbit that accompanies our cover story. This week’s cover tells the stories of Seattle-area residents who absolutely adore their pickup trucks.

THERE IS AN Instagram site called “Toyotas of War.”

It contains more than 1,400 images, mostly of Toyota pickups, with those photos we’ve all seen from Mideast wars: Taliban or other fighters crammed in the back, holding their guns. Or a Toyota with a missile launcher, or a machine gun. The site has 152,000 followers.

In this week’s cover story on local pickup owners, each talks up one particular make.

Toyota owners are proud of how their brand is perceived. Easy to fix. Simple. Lasts for years. Parts easily available.

It turns out that’s how Toyotas are thought of in the Mideast and Africa, too, in war zones and in places that have escaped conflict.

The Toyota of choice in the Mideast is the Toyota Hilux, an overseas model similar to the Toyota Tacoma.

In an Oct. 12, 2015, commentary on the Bloomberg News site, auto industry consultant Edward Niedermeyer wrote: “Hiluxes are among the most rugged and reliable vehicles on the global market. Tougher and more off-road oriented than the related Tacoma sold in the U.S., the Hilux is as popular with humanitarian groups and businesses operating in rugged corners of the world as with terrorist groups.”

The Hilux is so popular in war zones that a 1987 conflict along the Chad-Libya border was nicknamed “The Toyota War.”

In Lynnwood, Mohammed Mahmoud, who owns the Seattle Auto used car dealership, has seen plenty of Toyota pickups from his days in the Mideast.

He was just in Jordan in May, visiting family.

“They’re good quality. People like that. I looked at one in Jordan; it had 300,000, 400,000 kilometers. Over there, they take care of the body very well. Labor is cheap. They’re creative. They can transform an automatic to stick. Gas is expensive,” he says.

When I emailed the Toyotas of War site, someone named Chris responded and said he’d get back to me. He never did.

Around 2015, there were a number of stories about the Toyotas of War, such as this ABC News one headlined, “U.S. Officials Ask How ISIS Got So Many Toyota Trucks.” There were no answers.

The Toyota legacy continues on.

An Aug. 30, 2021, Associated Press story from Afghanistan about the U.S. withdrawal was accompanied by a photo of Taliban fighters waving from the back of a pickup. It was a Toyota.

When I emailed Ed Lewis, director of public policy communications at Toyota, he responded, “Toyota has a strict policy not to sell vehicles to potential purchasers who may use or modify them for paramilitary or terrorist activities, and we have procedures in place to help prevent our products from being diverted for unauthorized military use. Toyota is committed to complying fully with the laws and regulations of each country or region where we operate, including export control and sanctions laws. We also require our dealers and distributors to do the same.”

That’s great, but I think the Toyota of War site will have plenty more images to post.

As the ABC News story said in 2015, “Attempts to track the path of the trucks into ISIS hands has proven complicated for U.S. and Iraqi officials.”

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