Toyota hasn’t veered away from its obsession with hybrid vehicles, but it will be damned if it will let Hyundai and Kia have the market for three row battery electric cars all to themselves (The Rivian R1S is also a three row electric SUV). The Japanese company announced on February 6, 2024 that it will invest $1.3 billion to prepare its Georgetown, Kentucky factory for production of a new three row battery electric SUV designed for US consumers. The extra capital pushes Toyota’s total investment into the factory to nearly $10 billion and is the latest example of the automaker’s renewed pledge to electrification, according to TechCrunch. Toyota provided no details about the car, but if you imagine a big box on wheels with a Toyota or Lexus badge on it, you probably won’t be too far off base.
Last fall at the Japanese Mobility Show, Toyota presented a concept version of what it calls the Land Cruiser Se, which it said had seating for 7 passengers. Whether there is any connection between the concept and the car to be produced in Kentucky is unknown at this time. According to the company, the primary features of the concept were:
- Offers the high-torque driving performance unique to BEVs, together with an elegant, stylish design. Toyota further broadens the Land Cruiser brand’s appeal with a three-row SUV that caters to the world’s diverse needs.
- BEV quietness helps create a comfortable cabin space when driving in urban areas and other on-road situations.
- A monocoque body also offers highly responsive handling and confidence in tackling rough terrain.
- Length (mm) / Width (mm) / Height (mm): 5,150 / 1,990 / 1,705
- Wheelbase: (mm) 3,050
- Passenger capacity: 7
Toyota Targets Kia And Rivian
The $1.3 billion investment will support assembly of the battery electric SUV and will be used to add a battery pack assembly line. The car is expected to go into production in 2025. When it comes to market it will compete with Kia’s new three row EV9, which came to market in late 2023, and the Hyundai Ioniq 7 which will be available at about the same time as the Toyota product. Mercedes, Rivian, Tesla and Volvo also make three row all electric SUVs, although all of those are in the premium and luxury vehicle categories and have the price tags that reflect that segment or the market.
Toyota has been criticized in recent years for lagging behind the industry’s shift toward battery electric vehicles. Toyota execs have largely stood by their decision to offer consumers a mixed portfolio of gas, hybrid, plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles. But last year, the company pledged to beef up its EV portfolio with a plan to introduce 10 new battery powered vehicles by 2026.
The battery cells will be manufactured at Toyota’s factory in North Carolina, another facility that has received additional investment from the automaker. Last year, Toyota announced plans to spend an additional $2.1 billion on the new battery plant.
In the past three years, Toyota has announced new investments totaling $17 billion for its US manufacturing operations to support its electrification efforts. The Kentucky factory has an annual capacity of 550,000 cars and employs more than 9,000 worker. Kerry Creech, president of Toyota Kentucky, said the announcement reflects the company’s commitment to vehicle electrification and further reinvesting in its U.S. operations.
Toyota And EVs
Toyota has been in the news lately because of its often misleading claims about its hybrid models being “sort of” electric cars. “Through the company’s ‘Beyond Zero,’ ‘Electrified Diversified,’ and ‘To Each Their Own Electric’ marketing campaigns, Toyota is mendaciously relabeling a large number of its cars with internal combustion engines ‘EVs’ and representing vehicles that run on fossil fuels as ‘electric’ and ‘electrified,’” Public Citizen wrote recently.
“With the rapid growth of EVs, Toyota has begun to pretend many of its gasoline-powered cars are electric vehicles,” said Aaron Regunberg, senior policy counsel with Public Citizen’s Climate Program. “Toyota’s deceptive practices are harming consumers, making it difficult for them to decipher the difference between hybrids and EVs. If manufacturers categorize cars that run primarily or entirely on fossil fuels as ‘electric’ or ‘EVs,’ then what do those words even mean?”
Perhaps at last, Toyota is actually getting on the EV bandwagon. If we have anything negative to say about this announcement, it is that Toyota and every other manufacturer in America is hellbent on making their cars bigger and bigger with every passing year. The manufacturers say that’s what people want but those companies and their dealers spend $15 billion or more each year to “help” consumers decide what they want.
In any event, everyone in America is only too happy to play “mine’s bigger than yours” when it comes to vehicle size and three row vehicles that can seat 7 (or 8) passengers are all the rage at the moment. We have to give Toyota credit for addressing the segment of the market that is white hot at the moment.
At the same time, we can bemoan the fact that soon everyone in America will be driving around all alone in massive vehicles capable of transporting an entire basketball team and their mascot. Bigger, heavier, more expensive vehicles don’t seem to be the right choice to address a rapidly warming planet. Perhaps everything will work out for the best in the end but we find it hard to get overly excited about this impending new model from Team Toyota.