Toyota to Chrysler: Two Can Play This Game

2018 Toyota Sienna red - Image: Toyota

It seems that Chrysler’s Pacifica won’t be the only available hybrid minivan for long.

While the Ontario-built model, which challenges Toyota’s Sienna by adding all-wheel drive for 2021, remains the only hybrid people mover in the segment, it’s possible the Sienna might soon become the only AWD HEV minivan.

That isn’t known for sure at this point. Thanks to a Twitter snafu noticed by Roadshow, Toyota spilled the beans on one of two hybrid models it plans to debut this coming Monday. One is clearly an update of the long-running Sienna; the other, who knows.

“All new,” the Toyota-provided image tells us. “All hybrid.”

Unless Toyota’s playing games with the English language, this appears to confirm the next-generation Sienna will dispense with traditional powerplants altogether. It remains to be seen whether the revamped minivan will return AWD as an option.

Given that the Sienna borrows the TNGA platform of its RAV4 and Highlander stablemates, both of which offer popular and efficient hybrid AWD variants (utilizing an independent rear electric motor/axle setup), Toyota might decide to ditch the mechanical connection that characterized its last AWD system and go with something new.

After all, you need some choice in a lineup. Not only that, but Chrysler’s AWD Pacifica eschews hybridization, preferring to go the traditional route. The minivan segment may be be on a long, sad decline, but it’s always beneficial to offer something no other competitor can boast — assuming a deep parts bin is available to keep development costs down.

An aging relic of a fading segment, the current-gen Sienna bowed for the 2011 model year, gaining a styling refresh in 2015 and an upgraded powertrain in 2017. Sales have fallen off each year since its post-recession high point of 2015.

Will standard electrification change its trajectory? All signs point to “no,” but American consumers will have the final word on that.

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