The Toyota Venza – Filling a Big Gap in the Lineup

Yesterday, I posted about the introduction of the all-new 2021 Toyota Sienna (click this link if you missed it). As exciting as a new minivan may be, Toyota also unveiled the new 2021 Toyota Venza crossover SUV. I expect the Venza to be a highly competitive vehicle, but I maintain that the Venza’s true significance is how it fills a major gap in Toyota’s lineup.

Front 3/4 view of 2021 Toyota Venza
Image courtesy of Toyota

The Venza will serve as Toyota’s midsize two-row crossover SUV. It will compete against the Chevrolet Blazer, Ford Edge, Honda Passport, and Nissan Murano. Generally, vehicles in the segment are outsold both by their smaller compact crossover counterparts, and by the three-row midsizers. But for reasons I’ll review later, beyond battling the competition, it’s important for Toyota to have an entry in this segment.

The Toyota Venza looks great, and it will have some cool features. My favorite is the available panoramic glass roof that can switch between clear glass and frosted glass with the touch of a button. But the Venza’s most significant feature is its powertrain.

The Hybrid Powertrain

Like the recently-introduced 2021 Sienna, every 2021 Venza will be a hybrid electric vehicle. Toyota’s hybrid system can seamlessly transition between gasoline and electric power. The technology, refined over 20 years since the original Prius, is the best in the industry. As in many hybrids, the payoff in the Venza is its excellent fuel efficiency. Toyota is claiming an estimated 40 miles per gallon – an outstanding figure for a midsize crossover.

Every Toyota Venza will come standard with all-wheel drive. The system is the same as in the all-wheel drive Sienna models. Rather than running a mechanical driveshaft from the engine back to the rear wheels, the Venza’s rear wheels will be powered by their own electric motor to achieve traction at all four wheels when needed.

Rear 3/4 view of 2021 Toyota Venza
Image courtesy of Toyota

For many Toyota hybrids, their primary draw is their fuel efficiency. The Prius would not have been as popular as it was if it didn’t return such amazing fuel economy. The interesting thing about the Venza and the new Sienna minivan is that they’re likely to appeal to shoppers primarily for their size, styling, and functionality. Even if they weren’t hybrids, consumers would still buy the Sienna and Venza. The hybrid drivetrain and excellent fuel efficiency is icing on the cake.

Image of dashboard of 2021 Toyota Venza
Image courtesy of Toyota

Toyota’s Crossover Lineup

More significant than the vehicle itself is the slot the Toyota Venza fills in the lineup. For such a powerhouse player in the American market, Toyota’s crossover lineup is lacking.

In fairness, Toyota manufactures three truck-based SUVs: the 4Runner, Sequoia, and Land Cruiser. These three midsize-to-large old-school SUVs have their place, but they’re niche players nowadays. Customers are ravenous for car-based crossovers, with their more comfortable ride, more space-efficient interiors, and better fuel economy.

But Toyota’s crossover SUV lineup is oddly small. There’s the subcompact (and strange looking) C-HR, the hot-selling compact RAV4, and midsize three-row Highlander. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with Toyota’s existing crossovers – the RAV4 and Highlander are absolutely among the best entries in their segments. But in terms of both size and price, there are chasm-sized gaps between each of these crossovers.

Toyota Should Learn from Hyundai: the Switch Car

A trend in the industry has automakers cramming their lineups with crossover SUVs to fill every single conceivable niche, even if it causes overlap in size, price, and purpose with existing vehicles. Look at Hyundai, for example. For crossovers, they make the tiny Venue, subcompact Kona, compact Tucson, midsize Santa Fe, and midsize/large three-row Palisade. In executing the crossover lineup in this way, Hyundai benefits from the “switch car” principle.

The concept of the switch car is to give a sales representative an answer to any customer’s product-based objection. At Hyundai, if a customer likes the price of the Venue but finds it’s too small, for a small price premium, they can switch into the slightly larger Kona instead. Similarly, say a shopper likes the Palisade, but their budget only allows for the basic trim level and they want more bells and whistles. At a similar price, the salesperson might be able to switch them into a higher trim but smaller Santa Fe.

There’s nothing shady about the switch car concept…

Now as a consumer, you should be aware of this concept to make sure you don’t get “switched” into a vehicle you truly don’t want. But it is the job of the salesperson to present you with different solutions that may effectively meet your needs. When executed in good faith, the switch car concept does not represent a shady sales tactic.

But certainly, this is also to the benefit of the salesperson, dealership, and manufacturer. If a sales rep can switch you into an alternate vehicle that will suit your needs, wants, and budget, you’re less likely to go shop for a vehicle elsewhere. This is where the overlap throughout the crossover lineup comes in handy. These days, manufacturers know that a large majority of customers who walk through the showroom doors are going to be interested in a crossover SUV. It is to their advantage to have a crossover offering at every possible size and price point.

Toyota’s Crossovers are a Tricky Switch

Back at Toyota, the switch is more challenging to execute. For a customer who likes the RAV4 but finds that it might strain their budget, the C-HR could be a better financial fit. But a buyer who appreciates the RAV4’s practicality might be turned off by the C-HR’s lack of available all-wheel drive and bizarre looks. And for a growing family who might find the RAV4 to be too small, switching up to the Highlander might require a big leap up in price. The Venza fills this gap in Toyota’s lineup between the RAV4 and Highlander.

Side profile view of 2021 Toyota Venza
Image courtesy of Toyota

The Toyota Venza can’t arrive a moment too soon. But next, they need a proper small crossover. The C-HR may (or may not) have its place, but Toyota needs a more practical option at the low end – a true mini-RAV4. At that point, Toyota will have a comprehensive lineup of crossovers, and should be poised to satisfy the needs and budgets of the vast majority of crossover consumers.

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