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Toyota's New Grand Highlander May Precipitate Kia Telluride And Hyundai Palisade Hybrids

The battle for midsize, 3 row SUV sales supremacy is heating up in the US. Toyota has recently debuted its newest 3 row entrant, the Grand Highlander and its luxury marque twin, the Lexus TX. But Toyota already has a 3 row midsize SUV, the (not Grand) Highlander, so what gives? It seems like Toyota is trying to take on Kia and Hyundai specifically with this new slightly larger mid size SUV model.

   

According to Newsweek, Toyota’s aim is apparently to claw back some market share from the red hot Kia Telluride and Hyundai Palisade models. Toyota will offer a hybrid (HEV) version of the Grand Highlander (something neither Kia or Hyundai offers in their largest SUV models). If you are interested in a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) 3 row SUV from Toyota though, you’ll have to look to its sister brand, Lexus. The Lexus TX will be offered with a PHEV powertrain in its top trim (the TX 500h+), targeting a 33 mile EV range and 30 MPG while running on gas (as well as an impressive 406 hp). Note that the Lexus TX PHEV will have a 6 cylinder gasoline engine, as opposed to a 4 cylinder as most other 3 row SUV PHEVs offer, including the two lower spec TX models (a gasoline only base TX 350 and a mid level trim, the HEV 500h). It will also be larger than the Highlander (about 6-8 inches longer and about 2 inches wider and taller).

That engine arrangement for the PHEV is interesting because it clearly takes a performance angle and runs with it. PHEVs are the epitome of hybrid efficiency, capable of delivering meaningful all electric range (or should be) and combined MPG figures that far exceed those of standard hybrids that can’t plug-in to the grid. To offer a PHEV with a more powerful gas engine than one might need is most likely a factor of this being a Lexus, a luxury brand. Luxury car customers expect more of everything, you might say. But it also belies parent company Toyota’s intent while also suggesting something about their overall electrification strategy. Toyota thinks PHEVs should be just as much, if not more, about performance (from a power perspective), just look at the HP figures for the smaller Rav 4 Prime. That could mean Toyota doesn’t quite get or agree with the purpose of PHEV powertrains, but I think it is more likely because Toyota doesn’t offer many fully electric vehicles (EVs). EVs tend to have an abundance of power, significantly more so than traditional gasoline powered engines, so it is simply a way of offering a product that at least in this metric is more competitive with the EV competition. Well, that and maybe because they lack enough battery resources to build large numbers of EVs.

But what might this new vehicle mean, competition wise, for the South Korean brands that Toyota is obviously going after? Might it mean that Kia and or Hyundai will soon offer either HEV or PHEV versions of their Telluride and or Palisade models? Might they take either one of those full EV? The answer to that last question, I am going to assume, is no. I say that because Kia is bringing its EV9 model to the US later this year (which is basically the same size as the Telluride but fully electric) and an EV Telluride would simply confuse the market. Likewise, the same is true for Hyundai with their forthcoming Ioniq 7. But Kia has also recently stated that PHEVs are a dead end (at least in Australia) and a hard concept to sell due to consumers not really understanding them. That leads me to think that an HEV model of Kia’s Telluride or Hyundai’s Ioniq 7 3 row SUVs are all we are likely to see in response to Toyota’s challenge. Given that the Sorento HEV is more fuel efficient than the Toyota Highlander hybrid, I might expect the theoretical hybrids from Kia and Hyundai to also best the Grand Highlander in fuel economy (and it also makes sense as they are smaller, too). I would predict fuel economy of around 32 MPG for the most efficient version of the Telluride or Palisade HEVs. Which would you pick if in the market for a mid size 3 row PHEV (or HEV)? Why that one over the others?

Please leave your comments and questions below.

Images courtesy of Toyota and Lexus.

Justin Hart has owned and driven electric vehicles for over 15 years, including a first generation Nissan LEAF, second generation Chevy Volt, Tesla Model 3, an electric bicycle and most recently a Kia Sorento PHEV. He is also an avid SUP rider, poet, photographer and wine lover. He enjoys taking long EV and PHEV road trips to beautiful and serene places with the people he loves. Follow Justin on Twitter for daily KIA EV news coverage.