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Toyota to build Kia EV9 competitor in USA

Seven-seat battery electric SUV announced, to be built at Toyota plant in Kentucky

7 Feb 2024

TOYOTA is set to build a competitor to the Kia EV9 with the announcement this week that it has invested $US1.3 billion ($A1.54b) at its flagship Kentucky plant to produce a future three-row, battery electric SUV.


Aimed squarely at the US market, the project is said to reinforce the brand’s commitment to high-quality vehicles and long-term job stability at the plant, the investment supporting previously announced battery electric vehicle projects in Kentucky, which will also receive a new battery pack production line to assemble packs made in North Carolina.


Details of the new model are scarce, though it is likely similar in size to the Toyota Highlander (Kluger) and rival the likes of Kia’s three-row EV9.


Earlier reports suggest the new Toyota model will be dubbed the bZ5X – the model initially previewed as the bZ Large SUV concept back in 2021.


The production model is expected to feature the same Hammerhead Shark frontal styling seen in other Toyota BEV models, as well as large-diameter alloy wheels and wraparound DLO.


It is expected the model will measure close to 5000mm in length offering comparable passenger and cargo space to the existing Toyota Highlander (Kluger). It is also anticipated that much of the interior design and technology interplay will resemble that of the bZ4X and include comparable levels of safety and self-driving technology.


It is not yet clear what powertrain will feature in the future model, though some reports suggest it could mirror the offering found in the Lexus RZ450e, which shares the same e-TNGA platform as the proposed Toyota model.


If that is the case, the Toyota bZ5X will offer a similar 230kW of system power, dual electric motors and a compact 71.4kWh lithium-ion battery pack. Driving range would be close to that of the model’s Lexus sibling at 470km with a DC fast-charging time of around 30 minutes.


By way of comparison, the Kia EV9 offers a choice of 160kW or 282kW single- and dual-motor alternatives, a 76.1kWh or 99.8kWh battery pack, and a driving range of up to 512km.


Kentucky has been a hub for Toyota’s North American operations since 1986. The facility boasts almost 10,000 staff and continues to assemble strong-selling models, including the Toyota Camry.


“Today’s announcement reflects our commitment to vehicle electrification and further reinvesting in our US operations,” said Toyota Kentucky president Kerry Creech.


“Generations of our team members helped prepare for this opportunity, and we will continue leading the charge into the future by remaining true to who we are as company and putting our people first for generations to come.”


Since 2023, Toyota has announced new investments totalling $US17 billion ($A25.7b) into its US manufacturing operations to support electrification efforts.


It says that increasing battery electric vehicle assembly in North America helps advance its portfolio-wide approach to electrification and its commitment to building where it sells.


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