When Toyota and Mazda first announced that they were building a joint manufacturing facility in Huntsville, Alabama, both automakers made it clear what they were making. Mazda was going to build a North American-exclusive SUV and Toyota would add additional production capacity for the Corolla. Well, things have changed as Toyota has announced that it will make a “new, yet-to-be-announced SUV” there instead, and we have a strong feeling it’s going to be another small SUV to slot below RAV4.
Toyota’s announcement didn’t go into much detail as to what model will be added, but Automotive News reports it will be shown to dealers at a private event in Las Vegas this September. With SUV sales red hot right now, it’s no surprise that Toyota has decided to dedicate more production capacity to utility vehicles.
Those past comments strongly suggest Toyota is looking to enter a white-space niche that it currently doesn’t have a presence in—and today’s announcement only adds fuel to the speculation fire. Since Toyota originally planned to produce the Corolla in Alabama, a potential new small SUV would most likely utilize the TNGA-C platform that underpins the Corolla, C-HR, Prius, and the Lexus UX. The new small SUV would occupy the narrow space between the C-HR and RAV4, making it a competitor to subcompact SUVs on the larger end of the class spectrum like the Subaru Crosstrek and Nissan Rogue Sport. Unlike the front-drive-only C-HR, this new SUV may be more rugged, feature a boxier look, and offer all-wheel drive to distinguish it from on-road-focused competitors.
Toyota first hinted at another small SUV at the 2017 New York auto show with the boxy FT-4X Concept. That rig was shorter than the C-HR but was wider and had more ground clearance for use on (light) dirt trails. Out of all the concepts Toyota has shown, that one has yet to see a production counterpart. When the FT-4X was first revealed, Toyota said it was gauging reaction from dealers and the public before giving it the green light. Assuming the vehicle got positive feedback, the process from concept to production was said to take 24-36 months. That doesn’t quite line up with the production timeline at Alabama, which is expected to start building cars in 2021, though it’s possible the project took longer than initially expected.