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Toyota Aus design studio safe from closure

Onward and upward: Toyota Australia’s design team that penned the wild HiLux Tonka concept, will continue on after the company’s manufacturing operations close later this year.

HiLux Tonka Concept follows Toyota Australia design boom

Toyota logo30 Mar 2017

By DANIEL DEGASPERI

TOYOTA Australia chief designer Nicolas Hogios has insisted that its design studio is safe from closure amid the winding down of manufacturing operations later this year, with the HiLux Tonka Concept and 86 Shooting Brake concept examples of its continuing role globally.

Speaking with GoAuto at the public reveal of the HiLux Tonka Concept in Sydney this week, Mr Hogios said that the 30 designers within the 150-strong Melbourne-based product planning division continued to have a full load of projects from small parts to larger concept vehicles.

“We’re doing many projects at one time, ranging from small components to advanced work,” he explained.

“We’re really proud of the diversity of what we can do and what we can achieve with those 30 people. (The design studio) is growing, we’re still in our relative infancy, we’ve been around since 2003 and we’ve been growing steadily since.

“We’ve got a fairly good workload on to fill up (tasks) for those 30 people.”

Asked whether the October closure of Toyota Australia’s Altona manufacturing facility would affect the design operations, Mr Hogios replied: “It doesn’t impact us, we are on a different trajectory.”“But I do want to make the comment that we’re very proud of our manufacturing history and I think that without that we wouldn’t be standing here today,” he continued.

“So I think while it (the closure) won’t affect us long term, we are one of the things that will continue as part of the legacy of Toyota’s history here.”

Toyota Australia head of product planning Rod Ferguson added that the design team had actually expanded since 2014 in order to meet the demand for local projects within the company’s global network.

“Strong demand for Australian innovation has seen us expand our combined capabilities recently (and) we’ve added several designers to bring our whole product planning division to 150 people,” he said.

“This is the highest it has ever been, and an increase of around 50 people in the last three years.”

 center imageLeft: Toyota Australia chief designer Nicholas Hogios

Although next year marks the 15th anniversary of Toyota’s local design studio, over which time the Australian outfit has penned models such as 2003’s Avalon X Runner ute concept, and the original TRD Aurion and HiLux, Mr Hogios hopes larger-scale projects will be on the cards for the division.

“We’ve run at any one time a small component like an accessory design, all the way through to a bigger production project,” he said.

“We do work for Australia, for the Asia Pacific, and we’re hoping to get better and better projects as we go along. (Japan) sees us as a key resource in the Asia Pacific region. How that eventuates or how that evolves time will tell, but we are valued definitely as one of the resources in the region.”

Although the HiLux Tonka Concept is not destined for production, and by Mr Hogios’ own admission was not a globally commissioned project but rather a local project, he revealed the alloy wheel design for the TRD-equipped HiLux SR5 was penned here.

“The wheels were and some of the other parts were, but others weren’t, so it’s a mix of TRD products and some of our own,” he said.

According to Mr Hogios, although the HiLux Tonka Concept is the first project since the 86 Shooting Brake that the team is able to show publicly, “the way it differs is it’s much more of a local focus on Australia’s favourite car of 2016.

“It’s much more of a local focus I think is the key point there,” he added.

“The 86 Shooting Brake didn’t mean to happen, it just kind of evolved into what it was and the (86) chief engineer and his craftsman ended up building that car in Japan whereas this (HiLux Tonka Concept) is built totally in Australia.

“(Japan) are aware of it, they’ve seen images of it, but really this is a Toyota Motor Corporation Australia project.”

The chief designer maintained that the local team was properly equipped to deal with everything from creating the idea, to designing and then manufacturing concept vehicles such as the HiLux Tonka Concept.

“Toyota marketing guys and us are pretty close, we’re one company and we talk a lot about potential ideas, and that planted the seed and we started designing some computer generated imagery based off the HiLux,” he said.

“In a similar way to the Shooting Brake (we thought) this really works and is natural to combine similar elements of what a Tonka truck is, take its absolute extremes then see what we can do with a HiLux.

“The design studio is not only creative design … but you go through various stages – digital modelling, studio engineering, then it goes out to the workshop area with (clay) molds and 3D-printed parts, then it goes through to final assembly and fabricators and painters putting it all together.

“(Then) we’ve got all these other people that support the project, including our vehicle evaluation team testing the car at Anglesea (proving ground).

“That was important because we didn’t want it to be a static show car, we wanted it to be functional.”

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