Toyota Poised to Kill Its V8s, Replace Them With Turbo V6s Within Three Years

We may be looking at the end of an era.

Toyota

On the eve of the electric revolution, it's Toyota of all automakers that's emerged as a vanguard for the V8 engine. Eight cylinders are standard on its full-size Tundra pickup, Sequoia SUV and the mighty Land Cruiser. Lexus is the only one in the luxury space still stuffing naturally-aspirated V8s into sedans and high-style coupes like the GS F and LC 500. But the end appears to be in sight.

Toyota will be winding down the mass production of its ubiquitous UR-series V8 engines over the next three years and replacing it with a new GR-series turbo V6 powerplant in most applications, a source familiar with the automaker's U.S. manufacturing operations told The Drive. They also said they've personally seen a prototype for the 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 that's allegedly destined for the next-generation Tundra, Sequoia, and Land Cruiser.

Toyota's Huntsville, Alabama facility is just one of two factories in the world that builds Toyota's V8s—the other being the advanced Tahara plant in Japan, which also produces Land Cruisers and Lexus' flagship models—and it's due to stop down first, sometime in the next 12-18 months, the source said.

A spokesman for Toyota declined to comment on "speculation" over the company's future plans.

The big caveat with this information is that these plans were drawn up prior to the global health crisis currently disrupting, you know, everything. But according to our source, who asked to remain anonymous, here's how it's expected to go. The Alabama plant is (or was, rather) in the midst of machining enough parts to pre-build 30,000 extra V8 engines for the current Tundra and Sequoia over the next year-plus. Once those parts are ready, all the V8 tooling will be replaced with a new setup to produce turbo V6s, and once the final V8s are actually built, the assembly line will be converted as well.

Meanwhile, the Tahara plant will also pick up some of the slack building V8s to cover that downtime. But our source further claims that V8 production in Japan will only last as long as it takes to get the new GR-series V6 lines up and running in Alabama—two to three years from now—at which point a similar changeover will take place in Tahara, and the era of mass-produced Toyota V8s will be over. 

This all matches the leaked Toyota product plans that have made their way online in the last few months, showing a next-gen Tundra, Sequoia and Land Cruiser using a twin-turbo V6 and a variety of smaller-displacement replacements for Lexus' current eight-cylinder lineup. The automaker does seem to be slowly preparing us for life without its V8s, which, given tightening emissions standards across the world, is not surprising. 

That said, Toyota and Lexus have also introduced new V8 models since 2017, including the flagship Toyota Century limousine. That got a hybrid V8 in lieu of the car's customary V12 (though the motor is borrowed from the last-gen Lexus LS, so it's not exactly a new powertrain). There have been persistent rumors of a twin-turbo V8 Lexus LC F coupe, not to mention last week's report on apparent plans for an LS-based SUV, also with a TT V8. Lastly, the Land Cruiser 70 Series still produced for select markets offers a 4.5-liter turbodiesel V8 built only in Tahara.

Slapping a couple of turbos onto the current 2UR V8 engine in the Lexus LC in a way that meets the brand's standards is no small proposition, nor does it seem like the kind of thing Toyota would attempt in a block's final-year production run. So here's our best attempt at judging the gap between our source's information and the current landscape: Toyota is in fact ending V8 production, save for a couple of low-volume lines in Tahara that could build new twin-turbo V8s for Lexus flagship models and the older hybrid version for the Century. But as far as American consumers are concerned? The era of Toyota V8s is almost over. 

That would square up Lexus' and Toyota's product ambitions, our source's scoop about the impending shift at the Alabama facility, the tricky economics of mass production, and the reality of increasing emissions regulations worldwide. But does a neat bow on the story make you feel any better about the loss of yet another characterful V8 in this increasingly cold world? Not likely.

The Alabama plant is currently scheduled to re-open on May 4. We'll look for more information on Toyota's gameplan as that date approaches.

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Correction [Thursday, April 23, 2020, 4:18pm ET]: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the racing version of the Lexus LC500 coupe was recently downgraded from a V8 to a V6 engine. The relevant line has been removed.​​​​