By Maki Shiraki
TOKYO (Reuters) -Toyota Motor Corp plans to launch a sport utility vehicle version of its Crown sedan for Japan, China and North America, three people said, revamping a car that has been a showpiece of Japan’s market for nearly seven decades.
The SUV – which will come in hybrid, plug-in hybrid and full-electric models – marks an attempt to bring the 67-year-old Crown more in line with market trends as consumers shy away from sedans, the people said, declining to be identified because the information has not been made public.
Sales of the hybrid are expected from the summer of 2023 and will include exports to China and North America, while the plug-in hybrid is intended for the domestic market, they said.
The electric model is due to launch in early 2024 and the automaker has yet to finalise export plans, two of the people said.
As part of the overhaul, Toyota will also roll out a fully remodelled sedan version of the Crown from this summer, the people said.
Both the SUV and the sedan will be manufactured at factories in Toyota City, Japan.
A Toyota spokesperson declined to comment.
Largely sold in the domestic market for much of its history, the Crown was the first passenger car developed and built entirely in Japan, marking a pivotal moment in the country’s rise to become a global automaking giant.
It was also the first car Toyota exported to the United States, in 1958. Two years later Toyota was forced to suspend exports as the Crown engine wasn’t capable of speeds needed on American freeways.
Toyota sold more than 200,000 of the sedans in 1990 at the height of Japan’s economic boom, but by last year domestic annual sales had dwindled to 21,000.
The Crown revamp also comes as Toyota – like other Japanese automakers – looks to shed the perception it has been slow to embrace battery electric vehicles.
The carmaker said last year it would invest around $70 billion to electrify its automobiles by 2030.
(Reporting by Maki Shiraki; Writing by Satoshi Sugiyama; Editing by David Dolan and Kenneth Maxwell)