Toyota’s hybrid strategy will spread

Industry

Toyota is hoping its broad hybridization strategy will pay off for other models as it has for the RAV4 Hybrid, which in June outsold the nonhybrid version of the crossover for the first time.

The Japanese brand is banking on hybrids tuned to provide added horsepower and torque as well as fuel-savings as it begins to bring them to its pickups and body-on-frame SUVs beginning in 2021. Toyota believes the hybrid powertrains will differentiate the brand in those segments now dominated by the Detroit 3.

Meanwhile, Toyota’s investments in its core sedans will continue, although the pace and scale may be throttled back somewhat as those segments continue to lose share to crossovers. The brand has a track record of continuing in segments when others leave, a strategy that allowed the Tacoma to dominate the midsize pickup segment. But the slow sales pace of the Yaris sedan and hatchback proved too weak for even Toyota to stay active, leaving entry buyers to spend an additional $4,000 to move up to the Corolla.

Pickup and SUV redesigns onto a new single global platform are likely to dominate the Japanese brand’s product news for at least the next three years, beginning with the Tundra full-size pickup and Land Cruiser SUV. The body-on-frame platform, called F1 (and GA-F for luxury vehicles), will allow hybridization of the automaker’s biggest vehicles as well as much- needed improvements to safety, electronics and efficiency.

Yaris: The subcompact sedan and hatchback have been discontinued in the U.S. this year, with Toyota executives citing declining sales and homologation issues.

Corolla: The compact Corolla was redesigned in 2019 and added a hybrid version in 2020 that combines a 1.8-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine with two motors through an electronically controlled planetary-type continuously variable transmission. A refresh won’t be needed until 2024 under Toyota’s traditional product cycle.

Camry: Since adopting its global platform strategy, Toyota has been able to do smaller, less expensive and more timely product interventions on vehicles already on the Toyota New Global Architecture, such as the Camry. That allowed Toyota to mildly freshen the midsize Camry in 2020, and it likely means it can skip the more dramatic freshening that would have been due in 2022 under its normal product cycle.

Avalon: The large sedan got a mild freshening this year and is likely to see continual small improvements as necessary instead of a costly major redesign, given the collapse of sedan sales in general. Under the brand’s traditional product cycle, the Avalon would be due for a full freshening in 2022, but it remains questionable as to whether the struggling segment will warrant the added investment.

Supra: Reintroduced for the 2020 model year, the Supra won’t be due for a cosmetic freshening until at least 2023, given Toyota’s product cadence.

86: Toyota and Subaru are working on a next-generation 86/BRZ that will sport a new 2.4-liter boxer engine. It’s expected in late 2021.

Mirai: The second-generation hydrogen-powered sedan gets a full-body makeover for 2020, with sleek styling that will fit in well with other luxury sedans when the Mirai arrives in a few showrooms late this year. A lack of fueling infrastructure will continue to limit sales — the current generation is on sale only in California and Hawaii — but Toyota remains committed to hydrogen’s promise for the future.

Prius/Prius Prime: Toyota sought to expand the reach of its trailblazing hybrid by adding an all-wheel-drive derivative in 2020, following the introduction of its plug-in Prime model in 2019. Executives at Toyota Motor North America are taking long looks at the Prius’ declining sales, seeing some customers getting poached by Tesla and others moving into one of Toyota’s other now-prevalent hybrid offerings. If the Prius stays — and Toyota is normally loath to give up any segment, let alone one it created — it could undergo one more refresh in 2023, given Toyota product cycles.

Subcompact crossover: Likely to be known as the Toyota Corolla Cross, this subcompact crossover will split the burgeoning segment with the older, Japan-built C-HR when it goes into production alongside a twin from Mazda at the new joint plant in Alabama. Expect a hotter hatch than the C-HR, and one that could be a better draw for young buyers looking for their first Toyota but who might not want a sedan. It should be in showrooms very late in 2021, but it may slip into 2022, given the delays this year from COVID-19.

C-HR: Toyota has already done some mild interventions with its C-HR subcompact crossover since it was introduced in 2017. A redesign would be due as early as 2022, but the brand’s experiment with splitting the segment by adding another subcompact crossover could impact the timing and scope of that update.

RAV4: Toyota’s hottest-selling nameplate and its hybrid version have been going great guns since the redesigned RAV4 debuted in 2018. A full refresh is likely in 2022 under Toyota’s traditional product cycle for its popular compact crossover.

Venza: The 2021 Venza midsize crossover, arriving at dealerships in August, is an Americanized version of the Japan-built Harrier. The two-row hybrid, slotted between the RAV4 and the Highlander, will boast up to 40 mpg in combined fuel economy with its hybrid-only powertrain, Toyota says. The Venza is equipped with a 2.5-liter inline-four engine mated to three electric motors, delivering 219 hp. Inside, the Venza features an available center-mounted 12.3-inch touch screen, a 7-inch display in the instrument cluster, a digital rearview mirror and a 10-inch color head-up display.

Highlander: Toyota’s three-row crossover received a redesign in 2019, including some much improved creature comforts and safety features. Toyota is likely to do some one-off special editions before the Highlander is due for its first midcycle freshening in 2022.

4Runner: With no significant signs that Toyota is considering a return of the FJ Cruiser, executives will be keeping a close eye on the success of the new Ford Bronco lineup to guide the redesign of the Tacoma-based 4Runner midsize SUV in 2023. The redesign onto the brand’s body-on-frame F1 platform should allow designers and engineers to greatly improve the 4Runner, with the off-road performance package getting extra goodies to accompany Toyota’s latest safety and infotainment offerings, and with a hybrid powertrain for added power and torque. If done right, a redesigned 4Runner might be able to interject itself into an otherwise two-way debate between the Jeep Wrangler and Bronco among off-road enthusiasts.

Sequoia: Like the Tundra on which it’s based, Toyota’s three-row, body-on-frame large SUV is long in the tooth and in desperate need of an overhaul, which will arrive in 2022, when it is to be redesigned onto the F1 platform. The redesigned Sequoia is expected to get a full roster of ungraded infotainment and driver-assist systems, along with a hybrid powertrain that will improve torque and horsepower as well as fuel economy for the thirsty SUV.

Land Cruiser: In an era when big SUVs are in vogue, it may seem counterintuitive that Toyota Motor North America would think about voluntarily giving up its fabled Land Cruiser, the 60-year-old three-row luxury off-roader. The future of the low-volume, high-profit Land Cruiser was in doubt, given fuel economy standards and the fact that it bumps hard into the heart of the Lexus lineup. However, sources say Toyota will redesign the Land Cruiser onto the GA-F platform in the second half of 2021.

Sienna: The redesigned 2021 Toyota Sienna is expected in showrooms in late 2020, and the minivan will be in a more competitive position in the shrinking segment. The redesigned Sienna is built on the TNGA-K platform and will feature a standard hybrid powertrain that will give it a Toyota-estimated 57 percent improvement in combined fuel economy: 33 mpg. Along with exterior styling that makes it look more in line with Toyota’s crossover lineup and new driver-assist and safety features, the 2021 Sienna receives upgraded interior amenities, including a much-improved infotainment system and reclinerlike second-row seating.

Tacoma: The Tacoma’s domination of the midsize pickup segment and its continued sales success give testament to the adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But eventually, every design and technology begins to show its age. Last freshened in 2019, the Tacoma will finally be redesigned in 2023, onto the F1 platform, which should help it address some long-standing shortcomings, including its seating position and cabin technology. The redesigned Tacoma will get a full-hybrid powertrain tuned to provide additional torque and horsepower on demand, along with fuel-savings, that should help cement its position in the segment for some time.

Tundra: Compared with its segment peers, the Toyota full-size pickup is ancient — its current platform dates to 2007 — so in terms of the nation’s most rough-and-tumble, profit-rich segment, the Tundra has quite a bit of catching up to do. Much of the work for the redesigned 2022 Tundra, due in dealerships in the second half of 2021, will be carried by Toyota’s F1 platform. While Toyota has no designs on trading paint with the Detroit 3 in chasing pickup sales crowns, it does think it can capture market share with a smartly designed, relatively affordable pickup that will feature surprising capability. To that end, like the Tacoma, the Tundra will feature a full-hybrid powertrain. The big question is whether the U.S.-designed offering will be enough to turn heads in a white-hot segment that moves faster than almost any other in terms of technological advances.

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