Production of Toyota's newest piece of tech is already underway.
Pretty much all Toyota hybrid vehicles send their power out through a continuously variable transmission. But the recently introduced 2021 Toyota Sienna will be a bit different. The hybrid-only Sienna minivan, along with its Highlander Hybrid stablemate, will get a new hybrid transaxle built in North America. A transaxle is different because it combines the functions of a transmission, axle, and differential into one assembly.
Some modern examples of cars with transaxles include the Mercedes-AMG GT, Ferrari 812 Superfast, Nissan GT-R, and Porsche 911 to name a few. This new transaxle functions like a CVT, allowing the Sienna and Highlander to seamlessly change from electric to internal combustion power to achieve the best fuel economy.
After two years of development, the first hybrid transaxle just rolled off the assembly line at Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia (TMMWV). This facility also produces four-cylinder engines for the Corolla, V6 engines for the Highlander, and eight-speed automatic transmissions for the Camry, Highlander, Avalon, and Lexus ES.
"Our team has been planning for this new production line for several years, from construction to pilot projects to hiring new employees and countless hours of training," said Srini Matam, TMMWV president. "Our team members' dedication to the work they do every day is what makes our products world-class, and we are grateful for the continued support of our parent company, Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC)."
Toyota invested $113 million in late 2017 for TMMWV to produce 120,000 hybrid transaxles per year. The company also recently invested $398 million into the factory where the Tacoma and Tundra are built. "We are proud to add such a significant investment to Toyota West Virginia," Matam added. "Expanding West Virginia's production capabilities to hybrid technology solidifies our facility's role in producing next-generation engines and transmissions that will drive the future of Toyota's advanced mobility technology."
The 2021 Toyota Sienna is all new, and will make use of an entirely hybrid powertrain lineup comprising a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and an electric motor to develop a combined 243 horsepower. In AWD-equipped models, the transaxle CVT will seamlessly blend the electric power on the rear axle with the combustion engine up front, with estimated EPA consumption figures of 33 mpg combined.