Toyota celebrates 25 years of the Sienna, Mercedes-Benz wants to be rich and exclusive again, Ford CEO Jim Farley gets a podcast deal. All this and more on today’s issue of The Morning Dump.
Welcome to The Morning Dump, bite-sized stories corralled into a single article for your morning perusal. If your morning coffee’s working a little too well, pull up a throne and have a gander at the best of the rest of yesterday.
Toyota Celebrates A Silver Van-iversary
Toyota released its Previa-replacing Sienna minivan in 1997 for the 1998 model year, which means the Japanese family hauler turns 25 in model year 2023. Yes, that means the first Siennas are about to legally become classic cars in some jurisdictions, just in case you wanted to feel old today. More importantly, the new fourth-generation hybrid model has been a rousing success, shifting 107,130 units last year and outselling the Highlander Hybrid. As such, Toyota’s been a good sport and given their trusty family hauler a special 25th Anniversary Edition model for 2023.
For the minivan’s silver anniversary, Toyota has blended features from the XSE and Limited trim levels, laid down a few coats of Celestial Silver (white is also an option), and set production to 2,525 units. Nostalgia for the unremembered 2000s might be tilting the table a touch, but silver looks really good on this van. It highlights the lines well and is much easier to photograph than white. Contrasting with the paint are several blacked-out elements, from special emblems to black mirror caps and a black antenna. Color’s all well and good, but what about feature content? Well, the 25th Anniversary Sienna starts with the sporty XSE trim and adds some fancier things. Executive-style second-row seats? Check. Heated and cooled memory front seats? Check. A JBL stereo, wireless device charging, and a 1,500-watt power outlet? All on deck. Add in roof rails, silver interior stitching, illuminated door sills, special floor mats, and a special key fob cover, and it looks like Toyota’s created a really pleasant, tasteful special edition. Not bad.
Honestly, it’s almost hard to believe that the Sienna is 25 years old. I still see pre-facelift first-generation Siennas all the time, something that can’t be said of Ford Windstars, Pontiac Montanas, Mk2 Honda Odysseys, Mk3 Chrysler Voyagers, and Mk2 Nissan Quests. Toyota generally built the original Sienna to last, so it’s no wonder the lineage has been so successful. Who’s going to be the first person to own a 1998 Sienna and this 25th Anniversary van at the same time? I doubt many people collect Siennas, but who knows?
Ford Brings The Risk Of Fiery Death
Sometimes a bit of mystery can be good. Mystery keeps Shaggy, Scooby and Co. in business, adds a certain mystique to Banksy, and lends drama to scary campfire stories. However, mystery can often be bad, as certain Ford owners are finding out. A recall without a certain cause or fix has come out to play.
See, Ford has recalled 39,013 2021 Ford Expeditions and Lincoln Navigators due to spontaneous engine bay fires even when the affected vehicles are unattended. That’s really not good, it takes a pretty big screw-up for a car to ignite when parked. So what’s the risk factor here? Well, recall chronology details show that of the 16 vehicles that have caught fire, 12 have done so while parked and off, and one has gone up in smoke while parked and on. If you own a 2021 Expedition or Navigator, maybe keep it away from buildings, grass, trees, the sort of stuff otherwise known as “the world.”
In all seriousness, center-driveway away from your house is probably fine. Unless you own a condo, in which case why do you own an Expedition? Honestly, this recall is giving shades of Ford’s infamous cruise control deactivation switch recall where faulty switches in 17.5 million cars ran a risk of self-immolation, even in parked vehicles. Here’s to hoping that a fix is found shortly before more full-size Ford SUVs have a chance to become aluminum puddles.
Mercedes-Benz Refocuses On The Rich
Look back at the Mercedes-Benz lineup of 30 years ago and you’ll see very little catering to the aspirational. Sure, the 190E formed the bottom of the range, but the 190E was exquisitely-built and most certainly not cheap. Going up from there, the W124 E-Class, W140 S-Class, and R129 SL all felt hewn from single chunks of granite. Add in the inimitable W463 Geländewagen, and you had five models with impressive build quality and price tags to match. While the German brand has plunged ever downmarket over the following decades, the C-suite in Stuttgart are beginning to realize that exclusivity translates to money.
In a press release issued Thursday, Mercedes-Benz details their plan to become the most valuable luxury car brand in the world. Now that’s more like it. See, entry-level cars dilute a luxury brand, while high-end vehicles build a luxury brand and feature higher margins. Instead of messing about with gateway cars, Mercedes-Benz is now putting their focus on Maybachs, G-Class SUVs, S-Class sedans, and just about everything ultra-lux. That Virgil Abloh special edition Maybach? It’s allegedly only the first in a series of designer edition Maybachs. 1970s Lincoln product planners would be proud. Meanwhile, Mercedes plans on going above and beyond with a newly-announced MYTHOS series of small-batch vehicles.
On the core product side of things, Mercedes is keeping the E-Class and C-Class lines close to its heart, as it really should. The E-Class really built the Mercedes-Benz brand into a cultural phenomenon. While Mercedes-Benz currently offers seven entry-level models (A-Class sedan, A-Class hatch, CLA-Class four-door coupe, GLA-Class subcompact crossover, GLB-Class three-row crossover, EQA electric subcompact crossover, EQB electric three-row crossover), the German brand plans to cut that lineup to just four vehicles. A smart play considering how thin margins are on cheaper cars. The German luxury marque trends of model line ballooning and brand diluting had to stop at some point, but I’m a bit saddened that it took a global shortage of everything to do it.
Ford CEO Jim Farley Is Starting A Podcast
We’ve entered a really weird period of celebrity automaker CEOs. Akio Toyoda is famous for putting the fun back into Toyota, Mary Barra is famous for taking GM into the electric future, Carlos Ghosn is famous for escaping Japan in a musical instrument case, the list goes on. Honestly, I blame Elon Musk. Jim Farley was already famous in automotive circles before taking the reins at Ford, but the launch of the F-150 Lightning and some excellent tweeting and press conferences has thrust the 59-year-old into the mainstream spotlight. And what do people do when they get famous in 2022? They host podcasts.
Yes, Spotify has tapped Farley to host a weekly podcast called Drive, and the list of guests reads almost like Top Gear’s celebrity power lap leader board. According to a press release issued by Spotify, confirmed guests include Dax Shepard, Jimmy Kimmel, and The Duke of Richmond. Not a shabby lineup by any means. The podcast is set to debut on May 25 and I’m honestly pretty curious to see how it does, especially considering this fairly uncharted territory.
Whelp, time to drop the lid on this edition of The Morning Dump. With the Sienna celebrating its 25th birthday, I’ll share one of my Sienna stories. My parents had a 2001 Sienna bought new, and it was rubbish. It was immortalized on Google Streetview outside one of the many shops it visited for maladies like knock sensor wiring harnesses, oxygen sensors, prematurely-worn bushings, and air conditioning woes. I swear it must’ve been built on a Friday afternoon. Still, that thing had utility. It hauled paving slabs and barbecues and IKEA furniture like nobody’s business, all in a footprint roughly equivalent to a new Ford Maverick. The three-liter 1MZ-FE V6 was silky-smooth and the velour seats were properly plush, it was a great van to see some miles in when it worked. It eventually got traded in on a 2013 Hyundai Sonata in 2012, gone but most certainly not forgotten. If you have a Sienna story, I’d love to hear it in the comments.
Lead photo credit: Toyota