On paper, at least, it was a great idea. Toyota’s Venza was designed, engineered and manufactured in the U.S. market, and was expected to connect with U.S. buyers in a special way.
But as the sales numbers reveal, that didn’t happen, and Toyota is now set to kill off the Camry-based crossover-utility vehicle. While production for overseas markets is expected to continue at the maker’s Georgetown, Kentucky, plant through September 2017, the last Venza will be shipped to U.S. dealers in June of this year.
No jobs will be lost at (the Kentucky plant) as a result of this decision,” stressed Toyota spokesman Mike Kroll in an e-mail to TheDetroitBureau.com. “At this time, no specific plans are in place for a replacement vehicle.”
First revealed at the 2008 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the Toyota Venza went into production the following autumn. It was meant to flesh out a line-up that included such popular utility vehicles as the big Highlander and compact RAV4.
If anything, Toyota was hoping to have equally big success with Venza that was one of the first of its products to come out at a time when the Japanese giant was providing increased autonomy to key regional operations, especially in the U.S. The vehicle was engineered at the Toyota Technical Center in Ann Arbor and the big Georgetown plant was the global production source.
Sharing the same platform as the wildly popular Camry, Venza rolled down the same assembly line, vastly increasing manufacturing efficiencies.
Initially, Toyota seemed to have done its homework, sales shooting to 54,410 during 2009, Venza’s first full year on the market. But demand quickly peaked and steadily tumbled.
While it got good marks for its roominess and utility, Venza was arguably too wagon-like for American tastes.
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While RAV4 sales soared 33.4% year-over-year in February, to an all-time record for the month of 21,943, Venza was down 8.1% to just 2,272. That’s all the more disappointing for Toyota considering the strong surge in demand for utility vehicles in recent months.
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The imminent demise of Venza marks one of the few failures Toyota has experienced in recent years. Some have been quirky import models, such as the disastrous Echo, really more of an afterthought for the U.S. But the maker has yet to get the formula down for another American designed and built model, the full-size Tundra pickup. While its sales were up 14.2% in February, Toyota is selling fewer Tundras in a month than Ford sells F-Series pickups every four days.
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Toyota doesn’t plan to leave a gap in its showrooms once Venza vanishes. In the near-term, it will up production of other utility vehicles, such as the RAV4. General production increases should more than compensate for the loss of the Venza at the Georgetown plant, it notes, allowing it to keep the full workforce in place.
But while spokesman Kroll says there are “no specific plans” for a replacement vehicle – yet – industry insiders believe Toyota is working up a more attractive offering that can expand its presence in an SUV market expected to keep growing even after fuel prices eventually rebound.