Despite the pressing urgency posed by climate change, Toyota has been slow to embrace electric vehicles. In the process, environment groups have labeled it a “laggard.” But even Toyota must know it can't keep that up forever, and so things are reportedly changing—including turning the popular Highlander crossover into an all-electric model.

That comes to us from veteran automotive journalist Paul Eisenstein, writing for CarBuzz. In the report, the outlet says Toyota not only plans to convert the Highlander to an EV-only model but that same EV will spawn into a posh Lexus version. Toyota has already filed trademark applications for the names TZ450e and TZ550e with the European Union Intellectual Property Office.

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Toyota dragged its feet with EVs

The world's largest carmaker by sales volumes is immensely influential when it comes to policy decisions. Citing things like EPA's initial regulations were "bad for the country" and vowing to not "back down," Toyota's lobbyists held their own and got what they wanted—a slower transition to EVs, but at a cost to the environment.

Toyota EV Concepts

We are reaching out to Toyota for comment and will update this story if we get one.

This move makes sense, because Toyota sold some 169,543 Highlanders in 2023, making it its second-best-selling SUV in the U.S. after the RAV4. The Highlander’s Q1 2024 sales are down 40%, but if Toyota can spice up the model with a punchy electric powertrain, enough range and a fresh design, some of the Highlander’s loyal customer base might consider making the switch—a win-win for all.

Meanwhile, Toyota won’t desert its gas and hybrid car customer base. CarBuzz added that the Grand Highlander would continue with an internal combustion engine, likely with hybrid and plug-in hybrid options. This should bode well with the Japanese automaker’s multi-pronged approach to electrification, which includes selling conventional hybrids, EVs, PHEVs and FCEVs concurrently.

Toyota currently only offers two EVs in the U.S., the lackluster bZ4x crossover and its cousin, the Lexus RZ450e—they’re the same underneath but wear different clothes.

2024 Toyota bZ4X

The brand staunchly opposed the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) initial emissions proposal, which aimed at aggressive EV adoption through stringent emissions targets. But after fierce lobbying, Toyota got what it wanted: loosened emissions rules that allow a more gradual adoption of EVs.

But in 2021, Toyota announced 30 new BEVs to be launched worldwide by 2020. Most concepts showcased back then carried the “bz” nameplate, an abbreviation for “beyond zero.” The following number denotes vehicle class and x denotes all-wheel drive. That’s how you get the rather confusing bZ4x nameplate.

One of the concepts Toyota showcased in 2021 was labeled the “bZ Large SUV,” a three-row family SUV riding on a dedicated BEV platform to be manufactured at the brand’s Georgetown, Kentucky plant from 2026 onwards. It was rumored to get the production name of bZ5x, although CarBuzz reported Toyota wouldn’t adopt the alphanumeric nomenclature for all models.

That’s not all. A compact electric crossover, expected to be named the bZ3x, and a compact sedan are apparently coming in 2026 as well, sources familiar with the matter told the news outlet. We suspect that the electric crossover would be the production version of the bZ compact SUV concept that Toyota showcased at the Los Angeles Auto Show in 2022. A similar Lexus version would land in the U.S. by 2027, the report stated.

Toyota bZ Compact SUV Concept

The Toyota bZ3 sedan, built by a joint venture between FAW and Toyota, is already on sale in China

All things considered, retaining the Highlander nameplate is a significant decision. And the rationale behind that seems straightforward. The bZ4x's underwhelming 252-mile range and maximum fast charging speed of 150 kilowatts, far below many rivals, have failed to impress. Moreover, its unappealing alphanumeric name isn’t helping either. Consumer reception to the bZ4x has been lukewarm, with Toyota selling only about 1,897 units in Q1 2024.

Toyota bZ3

However, the Highlander is a household name in the U.S., and that raises an important question. Should Toyota abandon its alphanumeric nomenclature entirely and rely on established names for its future EVs? Should it also bring the Tundra and Tacoma under the EV umbrella in the future? Leave your thoughts in the comments. 

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