Most writers at CleanTechnica don’t cover hybrids at all. They prefer to focus on the leading edge cars like Tesla’s vehicles or the Ford Mustang Mach-E. There are several reasons I am writing about the Sienna Hybrid Minivan, though.
The first is that if my family were still at home, this would be a vehicle that I would seriously consider. Why not a Tesla Model X? Super expensive (sorry, I’m frugal) and not as much room. Why not Tesla Model Y? I do love the Model Y and it does come with 7 seats. The Sienna comes with 8 seats, and they are 8 big seats. So, depending on how many kids I had at home (in this hypothetical example), the Model Y might not be big enough. The Sienna also has a lot more cargo room and has the traditional Toyota ownership experience. I’ve owned 4 Toyota cars (3 Camrys and 1 Corolla) and I know the ownership experience is a little boring, but boring is good when you are talking about maintenance and repair costs.
The second is that Toyota moves the ball forward by only offering the hybrid powertrain. The idea (as Toyota itself promotes) is that if we have a shortage of batteries (and we do, mostly because companies like Toyota wasted time with fuel cell vehicles that don’t really make sense instead of investing in huge battery factories like Tesla and even Volkswagen have done), you can make either 50 hybrids or 1 fully electric vehicle with 100 kWh of battery production (in the large vehicle segment). One EV, if driven 20,000 miles a year, instead of a 20 mpg vehicle will save a thousand gallons of gas. 50 hybrids traveling 20,000 miles each at 30 mpg each save 333 gallons of gas, for a total of 16,650 gallons of fuel saved (and a proportionate amount of carbon emissions). That is 16.65 times as much fuel and carbon saved!
The real reason to make this vehicle is it meets a real customer need. It offers customers who aren’t yet willing to move to a plug-in vehicle like the Chrysler Pacific PHEV, Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, Tesla Model Y, or Tesla Model X a way to dramatically improve their mileage and reduce their carbon impact. As I wrote 18 months ago in this article, not everyone is ready for an EV or even a plug-in car. Even though I think they are for everyone, not everyone is as open to change as I am. Many people are afraid of change, and this vehicle is a great safe way to be introduced to electric motors in a vehicle that drives very similar to a gas car.
When I ordered my first EV (2012 Nissan Leaf) in 2010, I bought a used Camry Hybrid to start learning about electric vehicles. The Camry wasn’t that similar to the Leaf, but I did learn a few things. I learned they are quiet and have instant torque. (Although, the instant torque in the 2008 Camry was VERY mild.) I later bought a plug-in hybrid (Ford C-Max Energi), but found the 13 mile electric range (after the battery was a few years old) to be hardly worth the hassle of plugging it in. I will say the car drove much better on electricity than on gas. Better pedal response, quieter, and smoother, but on many days 13 miles of range wasn’t enough to move my electric car out of its spot so that I could charge the C-Max. The C-Max charger was also not that efficient, so that also reduced the savings you’d expect to get from plugging in.
Selected Specs Review
As you can see, Toyota has improved the mileage by over 50% without a significant price increase, and with only a small decrease in horsepower. This offers $3,500 in savings over 5 years and about $10,000 in savings over the life of the vehicle! We won’t know until we get more specs or a test drive if the extra torque from the electric motors makes it feel faster than last year’s non-hybrid minivan. The Chrysler Pacifica also offers great savings, especially if you plug it in frequently and drive mostly on electricity.
Another upcoming Toyota I really like is the Toyota RAV4 Prime. I’ll cover that in an upcoming article, but the lesson that Toyota finally learned with that vehicle is that you can copy Tesla and use the electric motor in the vehicle to give it great instant acceleration, which makes it fun to drive, not just economical, great for the environment, or a virtue signal to members of your tribe that you are saving the planet.