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US Toyota plant readying Kluger for Oz

Doing it right: The Toyota factory at Princeton, Indiana has to make several changes to accommodate the production of right-hand drive Klugers for the Australian market.

Aussie localisation underway as Toyota’s US Kluger factory adapts to RHD production

28 Mar 2013


WORK is well underway to tune the third-generation Toyota Kluger SUV for Australian tastes and driving conditions as the Japanese company’s upgraded factory at Princeton, Indiana prepares to produce its first right-hand drive model.

The new family wagon, officially unveiled overnight at the New York motor show, will be built with eight seats but sold in Australia as a seven-seater due to compliance issues.

It will also remain a V6 petrol-only proposition, with the entry-level 2.7-litre four-cylinder not being produced in right-hand drive, no decision on RHD production of the hybrid and no plans for a diesel at this stage.

Australia and New Zealand will be the only RHD markets served by Princeton, which will become the sole supplier of Klugers – called Highlander outside Australia – apart from a factory in China that produces exclusively for its domestic market.

As Japanese manufacture of the Kluger ceases when the current model is discontinued, Princeton will supply Australia and Russia in addition to its traditional North American markets.

Speaking with Australian media at the New York show, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Indiana president Norm Bafunno said he had already taken part in engineering research trips to Australia in preparation for localising the new car.

“We have had a very exciting time visiting both countries and regions (Australia and Russia) with our quality engineers to understand a bit how customers in those countries drive their vehicles,” he said.

He confirmed driving dynamics and rear independent suspension tuning were among the localisation tasks and described the research trips as assessing city and country roads as well as “how people use their vehicles and what kind of dynamic characteristics the vehicle should have”.

Highlander/Kluger project manager Tomoyasu Harada said Toyota Technical Center Australia, based in Melbourne, was helping out with evaluation, local tuning and compliance for this market.

No Kluger prototypes have or will be tested in Australia, although Mr Bafunno said engineers will be flown over to intercept the first shipment “just to confirm any feedback we want to react to”.

“What we do is take the road conditions from around the world, build those into the test tracks we have both in Japan and North America at the design centres and accommodate those global road conditions,” he said.

Apart from adapting to the slightly different assembly and mirror-image dashboard layout of RHD Klugers, Mr Bafunno said production, test and engineering alterations had also been made, including dynamic simulations, the testing done at the end of the production line and making sure the proving ground is suitable to test RHD vehicles.

The Princeton upgrade required a total $US400 million ($A3.8m) investment including supplier tooling, with the plant itself requiring $US131m and the creation of 400 jobs.

Mr Bafunno said the plant will produce an additional 50,000 units per year, taking the total to 160,000, with both export and an anticipated boost in North American demand accounting for the increase.

He said Princeton’s RHD production was “estimated somewhere around 1000 units per month,” but when told Australian Kluger volume occasionally exceeded 1500 units he responded, “we will make more”.

“The one thing we want to do is always be conservative but also flexible to market demand if we need to work more overtime and things like that we will, to accommodate all of our customers.”

Mr Bafunno confimed RHD production would begin in the fourth quarter of this year, consistent with Toyota Australia’s estimated February arrival.

“We have done a lot of work with shipping routes and things like that,” he said.

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