For the general public and the trade press, the announcement of a major investment in a car assembly plant is a worthwhile bit of news. But when it's a Toyota announcement that also confirms the upcoming launch of two new large SUVs, the news takes on added significance.
Toyota's announcement of a $803 million (USD) investment in its facility in Princeton, Indiana was accompanied by confirmation that it will build there two new 8-passenger hybrid SUVs there; and yet, little is known about these new models.
The automaker did say that one of the two SUVs will carry the Toyota badge and the other the Lexus one, which will be a first for the Indiana plant. These SUVs will be "brand-new". Presumably, they will have new names. In addition, they will have three rows of seating, and some (presumably entry-level) versions of both the Toyota and the Lexus will seat up to eight people.
Designed to meet the needs of Millennials (Generation Y, if you will), these new models will join a growing portfolio of electrified models. That said, will they have a regular hybrid powertrain like the Camry’s, or be plug-in hybrids like the RAV4 Prime? We don't know that either.
What we do know is that they'll have advanced technologies such as a semi-autonomous driving system and a remote control device that allows the vehicle to be maneuvered in a parking space using a smartphone, which will also allow these SUVs to be started.
Why Millennials, you might ask? That designation refers to folks born between the early 1980s and the latter half of the 1990s. Which means that older Millennials, now in their late 30s or early 40s, are probably looking for vehicles that are suitable for a growing family, yet reminiscent of the smaller SUVs they drove in the past.
The Toyota plant in Indiana currently produces three different models: the hybrid-powered Sienna minivan, the hybrid-powered Highlander SUV and the combustion-engine Sequoia SUV.
Unlike the Highlander and Sienna, which share a common unibody architecture called the TNGA-K, the Sequoia is built on a side-by-side chassis similar to that of the Tundra pickup. It's also the only 8-seat Toyota SUV in North America. Some industry analysts have predicted a redesign of the Sequoia in the near-future, which would not be surprising since the current model was first unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November... 2007.
As part of its announcement this week, Toyota said production of the Sequoia would be relocated to the San Antonio, Texas plant, where the Tundra is produced. If this scenario unfolds, let's bet that the two new models destined for Princeton will have a unibody architecture similar to that of the Highlander and Sienna.
The Princeton, Indiana plant has been in operation for nearly a quarter century and has an annual production capacity of 420,000 units. It currently employs more than 7,000 workers and will add another 1,400 to that total when the two new models go into production.