Toyota today (1 November) announced plans to begin exporting US designed, engineered and built Sienna minivans to distributors in South Korea.

The Sienna is produced in Princeton, Indian and is a top seller in the US, Canada and Mexico, according to Toyota. This is the first time the vehicle has been exported outside of North America with shipments, scheduled to begin in early November, forecast initially at 600 units a year.

Toyota began exporting US-built vehicles in 1988. Exports increased 30% year on year in 2010 to about 100,000 units.  South Korea becomes the 19th export market for US-assembled Toyota vehicles.

Other exports include the Georgetown, Kentucky-produced Avalon sedan, the Princeton -produced Sequoia SUV and the San Antonio, Texas-produced Tacoma and Tundra pick-up trucks.

“Toyota’s North American operations are constantly working to identify and expand new export opportunities for the vehicles we produce here, building on our extensive investments in auto production, research and development in the US,” said president and COO Yoshimi Inaba.

“With this development and other possible achievements in the future, we hope to continue boosting exports from our North American operations.”

Toyota introduced the third-generation Sienna for the 2011 model year. Key competitors in the US are the Honda Odyssey and Chrysler’s Town & Country/Dodge Caravan lines.

Chrysler launched pioneering minivans in 1983 and they soon replaced conventional station wagons as the North American family hauler of choice. In recent years, though, minivan popularity has waned somewhat, in favour of crossovers, while some automakers – such as Ford – abandoned the segment entirely. Others, such as Nissan, have experienced mixed fortunes.

The Sienna was designed primarily by Toyota’s Calty Design Research in California and Michigan, developed at the automaker’s technical centre in Ann Arbor, also in Michigan, and is assembled by Toyota Motor Manufacturing in Indiana.