Toyota Models Go Hybrid-Only in Spite of Cheap U.S. Pump Prices

(Bloomberg) -- Toyota Motor Corp. is wagering U.S. car buyers will emerge from coronavirus shutdowns still wanting to buy new rides that sip fuel despite gasoline prices lingering near the lowest in years.

The manufacturer announced its two newest vehicles -- the redesigned Sienna minivan and Venza crossover -- will be available only as hybrids. The maker of the Prius was having trouble keeping gas-electric models in stock before the pandemic wiped out demand for much of the industry.

Toyota Models Go Hybrid-Only in Spite of Cheap U.S. Pump Prices

The outgoing-generation Sienna didn’t offer a hybrid option, nor did the Venza before it was retired in 2015. By making gas-electric powertrains standard for the 2021 model-year vehicles, Toyota is showing faith that hybrids -- a bright spot for its U.S. lineup before Covid-19 -- will keep selling strongly even though the national average price for a gallon of gasoline is below $2.

Toyota’s hybrid sales surged 29% last year and 58% in the first quarter of 2020. The company’s total deliveries dropped 37% in the first three months of the year.

Virtual Debut

Toyota had planned Sienna and Venza debuts for the New York auto show, which is normally held in April but was postponed this year due to the coronavirus. The company instead staged a virtual reveal featuring Bob Carter, its executive vice president of U.S. sales.

“While things have been very tough recently, we are seeing positive signs emerging,” Carter said in a video Toyota released Monday. “The vast majority of our dealers across the country are open for business and consumers are back shopping.”

The new models will help Toyota meet a goal of making electrified cars at least one-quarter of sales by 2025. Both offer increasingly popular all-wheel drive, which is standard on the resuscitated Venza and an option for the new Sienna.

Toyota Models Go Hybrid-Only in Spite of Cheap U.S. Pump Prices

Features, Flourishes

The Indiana-built Sienna will compete with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV’s Pacifica as the only other U.S. minivan available as a hybrid. The new Toyota includes optional flourishes such as second-row seats with ottomans, a mini refrigerator and an on-board vacuum cleaner.

Toyota’s new Venza will be built in Japan, unlike its Kentucky-made predecessor, which first debuted in 2008. The revamped model features interior soundproofing and bottle holders in its doors capable of holding 24-ounce containers.

Sales of both vehicles start later this year. The Japanese automaker expects to deliver about 50,000 Venza crossovers and 100,000 Sienna minivans during their first full year in the U.S. market, a company spokesman said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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