When Toyota and Mazda first announced that they were building a joint manufacturing facility in Huntsville, Alabama, both automakers made it clear what they planned to assemble there. Mazda was going to build a North American-exclusive SUV and Toyota would add additional production capacity for the Corolla. Well, things have changed. Toyota has now announced that it will make a “new, yet-to-be-announced SUV” at the location instead, and we have a strong feeling it’s going to be another small SUV to slot below RAV4.
Toyota’s announcement didn’t go into much detail as to what model will be added, but Automotive News reports the new model will be shown to dealers at a private event in Las Vegas this September. With SUV sales red hot right now, it’s no surprise that Toyota has decided to dedicate more production capacity to utility vehicles.
Earlier this year, it was reported by our friends at MotorTrend that Toyota has 12 new or redesigned vehicles coming in the next three years. Toyota general manager Jack Hollis also hinted that Toyota could add another small SUV with available all-wheel drive to slot below the RAV4, currently the brand’s top seller, alongside the front-drive-only C-HR. “They can be in the same segment, but at a different price point. Or one is on-road, while the other is off-road. It could be taller, wider, or more capable,” Hollis said at the 2019 New York auto show. “We get caught wanting to be in different segments, but what about multiple products in the same segment?”
Those past comments strongly suggest Toyota is looking to enter a niche in which it currently doesn’t have a presence—and today’s announcement only adds fuel to the speculation fire. Since Toyota originally planned to produce the Corolla in Alabama, a potential new small SUV would most likely utilize the TNGA-C platform that underpins the Corolla, C-HR, Prius, and the Lexus UX. The new small SUV would occupy the narrow space between the C-HR and RAV4, making it a competitor to subcompact SUVs on the larger end of the class spectrum like the Subaru Crosstrek and Nissan Rogue Sport. Unlike the front-drive-only C-HR, this new SUV may be more rugged, feature a boxier look, and offer all-wheel drive to distinguish it from on-road-focused competitors.
All those would point to the boxy FT-4X Concept getting the green light. That model was shorter than the C-HR, but also wider and with more ground clearance for use on dirt trails. When the FT-4X was first revealed, Toyota said it was gauging reaction from dealers and the public before giving it the green light. Assuming the vehicle got positive feedback, the process from concept to production was said to take 24 to 36 months. That doesn’t quite line up with the production timeline at Alabama, which is expected to start building cars in 2021, though it’s possible the project took longer than initially expected.
Another possible addition would be a model to slot between the RAV4 and Highlander. The two-row midsize segment has started to gain popularity, where new players like the Honda Passport and Chevrolet Blazer have joined the Ford Edge, Hyundai Santa Fe, Nissan Murano, Subaru Outback, and Jeep Grand Cherokee. Toyota would be wise to enter that segment since it hasn’t really had anything in that niche since the Venza was discontinued after the 2015 model year. Should Toyota decide to reenter this class, it would need something less carlike in looks. Like all new Toyota models, a potential Passport fighter would be underpinned by one of the TNGA platforms, likely the GA-K used in the Camry and Avalon.