Toyota overcomes its EV skepticism to announce a three-row electric SUV for the US

Toyota is pumping $1.3 billion into its factory in Kentucky for “future electrification efforts,” including the production of a currently unnamed three-row electric SUV for the US market. The news comes as a bit of a surprise, as the largest automaker in the world is also one of the most hostile toward the industry-wide shift to EVs.

Toyota says the money will fund an EV assembly line at its Kentucky plant, as well as battery pack assembly with EV batteries supplied by its facility in North Carolina. The company has said it would invest a total of $17 billion in its US operations to support the shift to EVs.

Of course, this may come as cold comfort to environmentalists, who have been battling the automaker for years over its anti-EV lobbying in countries around the world.

Toyota was an early pioneer in electrification with the wildly popular Prius, which helped pave the way for companies like Tesla and others by proving that vehicles with alternative powertrains could be big sellers. But the company has since fallen far behind its competitors. It only sells two battery-electric vehicles in the US: the Toyota bz4X and the Lexus RZ 450e.

The recent debate over EV demand in the US — is it rising? falling? flatlining? — has given Toyota an opportunity to gloat about its strategy of prioritizing hybrids over pure battery-electric vehicles. “People are finally seeing reality,” Toyota chairman and former CEO Akio Toyoda told reporters at the Japan Mobility Show recently, according to The Wall Street Journal. “There are many ways to climb the mountain that is achieving carbon neutrality.”

The three-row SUV could be based on the electric Land Cruiser concept that Toyota showed off at the 2023 Japan Mobility Show. The seven-seater concept had an angular appearance with a long hood, swooping windshield, and rounded rear end with a visor taillight design. It also had a wider stance and a shorter height than the gas-powered 2024 Land Cruiser.

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