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When it comes to innovation and forward-thinking ideas in the auto industry, a few manufacturers spring to mind. Tesla is one, of course. And BMW has made strides in recent years, especially in its 5 Series. But on the other end of the spectrum, manufacturers like Honda and Toyota are mostly seen as reliable, affordable options. But the 2022 Toyota Sienna is making an interesting leap forward, and it will be intriguing to see if other manufacturers follow suit.

An unexpected innovation in the Toyota Sienna

A view of the black front seats, steering wheel, dashboard, and touchscreen of a 2022 Toyota Sienna Woodland Special Edition minivan
2022 Toyota Sienna Woodland Special Edition interior | Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

Toyota has been slow to embrace progress in recent decades, even going so far as lobbying against electric vehicles in Congress. But the company turned heads in late July when it announced the 2021 Sienna would have its owner’s manual available as part of the Toyota Driver’s Companion feature in the Toyota App. Not to be outdone by Siri and Cortana, Toyota’s app features Joya, a virtual assistant eager to help with all of your Toyota-related queries.

Joya (along with the rest of the app) has been added to what’s already the only minivan recommended by Consumer Reports. The 2021 Toyota Sienna has its pros and cons, and one of the positive traits is the “impressive infotainment system.” Perhaps it wasn’t too much of a stretch to use the already included tech to load the owner’s manual digitally along with the rest of the enhancements.

Will the paper manual remain in the Toyota Sienna?

Yes, the hard copy of the manual will still be available. Toyota told Jalopnik that the paper driver’s manual “will still be available with 2021 Sienna models” and that “Driver’s Companion is meant to be an enhancement of the manual.” The company is likely testing the waters with this release.

The 2022 Toyota Sienna includes a Woodland Special Edition that provides limited off-road capabilities — much more than you’d expect from a minivan, at least. Because the app uses Google Cloud services, it’s entirely possible that adventuresome Woodland drivers could find themselves in an area without cell service and need to consult the manual.

It’s reassuring to know the paper version will remain for the foreseeable future. An alternative solution would be to download the information locally, but adding gigabytes of data to the Sienna’s onboard hard drive adds unnecessary complications.

The future of owner’s manuals

Owner’s manuals have been a staple of cars for nearly a century. They’re seldom used but can also provide crucial information in some scenarios. The 2020 Hyundai Sonata received a recall after only a few months due to incorrect tire pressure information in the owner’s manual (and printed on the car itself). The owner’s manual is basically the car’s Bible and must be accurate in the rare event it’s needed. But this hasn’t done much to make them interesting or exciting, so it’s a breath of fresh air to see Toyota taking steps in that direction.

The reputations of these books are so dull that Oreo recently made headlines by disguising its packages to look like Ford owner’s manuals. If manufacturers everywhere moved toward digital versions of the app, where would cookie enthusiasts hide their stash? Augmented reality (AR) is beginning to see applications in luxury cars such as the Audi Q4 e-tron. How far away is Toyota from introducing AR and letting Joya take the driver on an adventure around the vehicle?

The auto industry is probably a few years away from fully digital owner’s manuals — whether or not they’re accompanied by a helpful virtual assistant. But Toyota’s entrance into the space is interesting, and the automaker is taking an unexpected gamble. Whether the risk succeeds or fails, other manufacturers will be taking notes. It’s unlikely we’ve seen the last of the digital owner’s manual.


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