DETROIT — Toyota's aging minivan, the Sienna, took it in the teeth in 2018.
Its U.S. sales plummeted 21 percent to 87,672, the lowest since 2009. And perhaps worse, Sienna dropped from third to fourth in a moribund minivan segment, after being overtaken by the Honda Odyssey.
Last redesigned in 2010, the Sienna is clearly showing its age. But Toyota Motor North America CEO Jim Lentz said the company has little motivation to boost its sliding-door people hauler with added incentives while dealers wait for a fourth-generation minivan on the Toyota New Global Architecture.
"When it gets late in its life cycle, you've got to decide — typically, we will prop up a vehicle late in its life cycle with incentives," Lentz told Automotive News this month. "But you've got to look at the segment that you're in. And in some cases, that doesn't make good business sense to do, and I think that's what's happening with Sienna."
Minivan sales overall in 2018 took a bit of a hit, falling 0.3 percent, compared with a 0.6 percent gain for the broader market. But within that shrinking segment, the fortunes of individual nameplates varied widely. For example, the ancient Dodge Grand Caravan was scheduled to end production in September 2017 before an intervention allowed it to meet tightened U.S. safety standards. It outsold every other minivan by a wide margin, thanks largely to its popularity with fleet customers. Sales of the second-place Chrysler Pacifica were flat, while the Odyssey gained 6 percent and the Kia Sedona fell 25 percent.
Toyota is expected to redesign the Sienna onto its TNGA platform for the 2021 model year, but since Toyota's Sienna assembly line in Princeton, Ind., also builds the popular Highlander, Lentz says he sees no need to hold up the Sienna artificially. Highlander sales rose 13 percent in 2018 to 244,511.
"There's a next generation that should be coming, so let's let it take a little bit more of its natural fall," Lentz said of the Sienna. "I can build another vehicle in that same plant right now, so don't chase volume just by throwing big incentive dollars. Wait for the fresh new product to come, because there have been some big incentives thrown [by competitors] against that segment."