The Toyota Venza finished production 4 years ago, that’s old news. But like my nephew says when he gets bored, “why?” Well, Billy (not his real name), perhaps it was due to a steady decline in sales figures. “Why?” Maybe consumers thought the model was getting stale and Toyota didn’t want to spend money on a refresh. “Why?” Well the crossover wars were heating up Toyota must’ve decided they want out. “Why?” Hmm… yea, why did they pull a decent car in the midst of the sedans-must-die hype? “I don’t know, but maybe you should write something about this in that blog of yours.”
Someone in the neighbourhood has a Venza sitting in their driveway and the last time I walked by it stood out for some reason. For a split second I wondered if Toyota still made the Venza, but then I remembered its cancellation. But I couldn’t place exactly when that was. Oh, 2015, right. The car, however, still looked ‘ok’ despite being a pre-2013-facelift model. It sat on fairly big 19″ rims which helped reign in the rest of its proportions and made the car seem smaller than it really was. All-in-all it looked like a decent package and I wondered why it wasn’t around any longer.
The Venza was based on the same ‘K Platform’ as the Camry which meant it handled and felt kind of like a car… just higher up. It sounds like an award-winning recipe for today’s automotive market where behemoths roam the roads and eat up the sales of all the little cars. Yet one such example is now extinct. What happened to the Venza?
About the Venza
Let’s get ourselves acquainted with this machine. First, here’s the brochure Toyota handed out in their showrooms to potential customers:
Ok… maybe it’s not. But it I can only imagine these are the points that needed to be checked on a Toyota buyer’s list. From this we can conclude that the Venza was: a vehicle. And that’s fine, it didn’t need to be anything too special. As far as options go, the car was available in both FWD and AWD versions and could be had with its base 2.7 L 4-cylinder engine or an upgraded 3.5 L V6. The only time I’ve ever been at the controls of a Venza were on a brief test ride and it had the lesser engine. It felt at home in the city, which is to mean ‘comfortable but in no rush to get anywhere’. For longer highway trips where the need to pass arises I’d probably want the V6 to propel the 4,000 lb car. With the rear seats folded it is able to fit 70 cubic feet of stuff, which is as much as the far more popular RAV4.
The 2009 Tall Car Lineup
Speaking of the RAV4, the Venza was entering a new but fairly crowded market in 2009. Despite the unconventional egg shape making it somewhat tricky to label the Venza as a SUV, crossover, or lifted wagon, it wasn’t entirely alone in its space. When the car debuted it began to compete with other domed transport machines like the Mazda CX-7, Nissan Rogue, and Ford Edge. There were also stalwarts in similar segments such as the Subaru Forester and Honda CR-V. In fact the Venza was probably even cross-shopped with Toyota’s own Camry, Matrix, RAV4, and Highlander.
By 2009 sedan and SUV/truck sales were neck-and-neck. However gas prices had been steadily increasing for several years by this point, more than doubling from 2002 to 2008 (those gas prices fueled the bankruptcies of GM and Chrysler in 2009).
So in comes the Venza and creates a dilemma for the shopper. Let’s say the 4-year lease on your 2006 Camry is almost up and your Toyota dealer calls you in for an upgrade. They tell you that the ’09 Camry is fresh on the lot and comes packed with new features and tech! However, they then point out the Venza. “Brand new, very nice inside, just as reliable, sit higher up, fit more things. Buy now and we’ll give you a great deal!” After they obfuscate the roughly $5,000 premium you have to pay for the privilege of driving a Venza into an extra $90 per month, you leave the dealership happy, knowing you’re on the cutting edge of Toyota vehicles. Toyota is happy because they just scored an extra 5 grand from you. Now hopefully you don’t get any buyer’s remorse.
Venza Sales Performance
So, was the Venza an instant sales hit?
Not really… is putting it lightly. Between the Venza and its direct competition (in orange) it placed a poor second-last only managing to best the Mazda CX-7. It was also behind the Forester, CR-V, and RAV4, which in turn were all eclipsed by the unstoppable Camry. But this small excerpt in time doesn’t paint the entire story as the following several years truly solidified its fate. The Venza was most successful in its introductory year; sales steadily dropped after that and even a facelift in 2013 didn’t help. By 2015 Toyota had seen enough and decided to discontinue the vehicle after it managed to move just 21,000 units that year.
Interestingly the Mazda CX-7 also didn’t stick around for too long. Ailing sales meant it was replaced in 2012 by the CX-5. On the other hand the Nissan Rogue had very impressive figures to its name as a redesign in 2015 helped launch the stylish crossover to an incredible 412 thousand sales in 2018. That’s even more than the Camry was able to muster!
At this point it’s evident that the Venza was axed because it wasn’t selling well – the numbers make that abundantly clear. However the numbers do not provide any context as to why its sales were so poor, and I’m curious enough to try and understand why.
If you ask me, I like how the Venza looks. It was different than anything else Toyota had in its lineup, and also didn’t follow the existing crossover formula. I would describe it as “fashionably utilitarian”. Unfortunately people are resistant to change and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Venza’s bulbous body lines scored poorly with the average ‘Yota customer.
The Venza was cheaper than some of its competitors – like the Ford Edge – but it definitely had a higher asking price than the Camrys and RAV4s in its own showroom. Compared to those two the Venza didn’t exactly present the best value proposition, and for some people that could have been the final nail in the coffin. However, in its defense, the car wasn’t grossly overpriced and did manage to sell 300,000 units over its production run.
Another important factor to consider is just how busy the aforementioned showroom was in 2009 (and still is to this day). A total of 15 models fought for precious floor space! The Venza already had a lot of competitors just in its own home.
Outside of that, the other manufacturers’ models were getting upgrades whereas the Venza was just getting… stale. The only way to keep the car competitive would have been to splurge on a costly redesign which, with the struggling sales figures, probably didn’t make much sense to Toyota’s bean counters.
One Wild Theory
But maybe the Venza’s initial lackluster performance and subsequent drop in popularity occurred because it was never meant to be a Toyota. Maybe the car needed to be more luxurious, more upscale, more advanced.
Maybe the Venza needed to be the Lexus RX.
Hear me out. It doesn’t happen often, but there are circumstances where more expensive models outsell their cheaper counterparts. For several years the Cadillac Eldorado had more sales than its Buick and Oldsmobile stablemates. Nowadays it’s more common to see a Mercedes G63 on the street than a G500. And – coincidentally – The Lexus LX is quite a bit more popular than the Toyota Land Cruiser.
The RX nameplate has been around for a while and carries quite some clout. It was one of the first luxury crossovers and practically defined the segment over the years. If you were shopping for a crossover the RX was – by default – on your list. The Venza? Maybe, maybe not. It was a solid car but didn’t do anything remarkable to carve out a space for itself and perhaps that was a crack in the Venza’s foundation.
Why Does It Matter?
More than once while writing this article I had to take a minute to consider its entire raison d’etre. Nowhere in my get-rich-in-10-years-by-starting-a-car-blog plan was the Venza mentioned. So who cares?
Well, after 1,800 words I guess I do.
To a certain degree I lament the Venza no longer being a current model. It was a bit quirky. It was different. I think it’s a good looking car even. Designed in California and built in Kentucky the Venza was really geared for the North American market yet somehow fell on its face and now swaths of Nissan Rogues own the streets. I think the Venza met some unfortunate circumstances in its early years and was killed off too soon. The automotive landscape now suits the crossover really well and I bet it would stand a fighting chance if reintroduced.
But, Toyota should seize the opportunity and do something interesting rather than stuff another small 4-cylinder engine into the front. Despite its massive size (or perhaps because of it) Toyota is a very cautious manufacturer and innovations barely trickle down into its passenger vehicles. They pioneered the hybrid sector with the Prius but haven’t done much after. The Mirai is a hydrogen car but it’s as rare as most Ferraris. This leaves an evident gap in their lineup that is currently all the rage. I’ll give you a hint what it is: it starts with “electric” and ends with “vehicle”.
Toyota’s EV Game
Toyota has a belief that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) are the ultimate end goal, not EVs. I’ll refrain from entering a hydrogen vs electric debate but one thing is abundantly clear right now: people are positively charged up to buy electron-powered cars. This is a technology that’s not only gaining popularity but also infrastructure. Public charging stations are becoming more and more common, and homeowners have the ability to “fill up” overnight in their garages. Tesla is the hottest manufacturer right now and the Porsche Taycan (a ‘Tesla killer’) is that brand’s most anticipated release for quite some time. Despite all the EV hype, Toyota currently has no skin in the game.
On the plus side they already manufacture batteries for their hybrid models but will need to ramp up production to meet the demand for pure electric cars. And in the past they have produced a low volume of RAV4 EVs and sold them in California. In fact the second generation of that car saw Toyota enlist Tesla’s help, and they quickly churned out a working prototype with hardware similar to the Model S. It was well-received but Toyota axed the deal with Tesla in 2014, along with their only electric model.
What Toyota Should Do With the Venza
The company has a vague plan to promote alternative fuels, reduce CO2 emissions, sell 5 million electrified cars by 2030, blah blah blah. It’s all very calculated – and incredibly boring – from a Japanese company that acts quite German. I have an alternative idea, and it involves re-introducing the Venza nameplate:
I’m just a guy behind a keyboard. In the past I developed software for assembly line machines at automotive plants so I have a sliver of an idea about what I’m writing. But it’s just a sliver. Making cars is hard.
Give the Venza the facelift it needed for MY2016
If you’re going to bring the Venza back it will definitely need a refresh. Graft on some LED headlights and maybe the grill from the Camry. Fake vents will complete the look.
While you’re at it, update the rest of the body as well
The original Venza was shaped like Bulbasaur. Round is out; sharp is in. Add hood creases and some more body lines to make it look fierce.
Now add even more LEDs
Everyone knows LEDs scream “future vehicle coming through”.
Throw some batteries into it
Here’s where it gets interesting. Purpose-built EV platforms all use a “skateboard” design where the batteries are integrated into the floor and chassis. The revamped Venza won’t have a new frame but it is a lifted vehicle and perhaps some ground clearance can be traded for a row of batteries.
Throw some electric motors into it
Two motors (one in the front, one in the rear) will provide sufficient power while retaining AWD capability.
Unleash the Venza EV
Run a well-funded ad campaign that proclaims “Toyota is going electric. Introducing the all-new Venza EV. Let’s go places, z-z-z-ap.” Or something… I’m an engineer, not a copywriter.
To ensure the future success of its models Toyota will need to closely study what works and what doesn’t; how its clients drive their cars; what seat warmer settings they use. In all seriousness – data will help Toyota better position its future EVs.
This step always comes before the next one, right?
I don’t think Toyota will make money by selling some eVenzas, but that’s not the point. They will gain valuable insights by producing this car and introduce their client base to the possibility of owning a Toyota-branded full EV. If it works out then the Venza gets a nice come-back story, and if not, it just fades away from existence like it did the first time.
Although I wrote a bunch of stuff about the Venza’s demise I’m not sure it really answered anything. Maybe some cars are just unlucky? Regardless, I believe I’ve laid out a solid plan for Toyota to resurrect the model and make it one of the most forward-facing cars in the marque’s history. If you need any more info, Toyota, you know how to reach me (use the Contact page, thanks!)