Could we see a Toyota “Grand Highlander” and a Lexus equivalent soon?
Over the next couple years, Toyota is shuffling its North American production around to make way for new models. Tacoma production shifts entirely to Mexico, while the Tundra and its Sequoia SUV sibling will fill out the assembly lines in San Antonio, Texas by the end of next year. For the past two decades, Toyota built the Sequoia in Princeton, Indiana, but now the company announced it will “introduce two all-new, three-row SUVs” to the plant. Apart from one being an actual Toyota, the other will bear the Lexus name, suggesting a luxury twin.
To that end, the automaker will invest $803 million and open up 1,400 new jobs at the Princeton plant. As of right now, there’s a 7,000-strong workforce at that facility producing 420,000 vehicles each year.
Toyota already produces the Highlander and Highlander Hybrid at this plant, as well as the Sienna minivan. Earlier this year, though, rumors began swirling as Toyota filed a trademark application for the “Grand Highlander” name. The supporting documents there are usually pretty vague, except to say that the name may apply to certain automotive-related products in some fashion. This would be a solid use case for that name to bring along a larger version of Toyota’s best-selling three-row model. Even though the Highlander itself is already a three-row SUV, something a bit larger probably wouldn’t misfire among growing families.
Lexus, for its part, currently tops out at the RX three-row among its affordable crossovers, before making you jump to the drastically more expensive LX 570. Like the Highlander, the RX’s rear seats are really best for incidental use, and its competitors offer far more space.
But what about the Sequoia?
As far as we know right now, Toyota does indeed plan to retool and revamp the Sequoia to sell alongside the new, hotly anticipated Tundra. But wouldn’t that leave the brand with two massive, “family-friendly” SUVs to choose from? Gut instinct: That really hasn’t seemed to bother Toyota over the years, as the brand new Highlander outsells the ancient Sequoia at a rate of about 30 to 1.
With the Land Cruiser’s departure from the U.S. market (with uncertainty about whether the new 300 Series will eventually return) and a new three-row SUV evidently on the way from Indiana, there’s some logic to jockeying the Sequoia into a higher rung in Toyota’s SUV pecking order, then placing this as-yet unannounced SUV in a price bracket where the Sequoia used to be.
In other words, it sounds like we’ll have the $35,000-ish Highlander, then a “Grand Highlander” (or whatever Toyota decides to call it), then a more expensive updated Sequoia. On the Lexus side, we’ll have the RX followed by a bigger SUV in the mid-$50,000 range, then the overhauled Lexus LX, which we know is coming to the U.S., even if its Land Cruiser counterpart is absent. To be clear, this is speculation of the highest order. We’ll have to wait and see when Toyota actually reveals their hand.