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Toyota Australia offers peek into local design studio

Bigger and better: TMCA’s product planning and development division has grown in size by 50 per cent over the past three years, with 150 employees now on staff.

Altona plant closure poses no threat to local Toyota product design and engineering

2 Apr 2018

TOYOTA Motor Corporation Australia has offered journalists a rare tour of its product planning and development division, which has been seemingly unaffected by the closure its manufacturing plant in Altona, Victoria in October last year.

Speaking to GoAuto, TMCA product planning and development general manager Rod Ferguson explained that the division continues to carry on its rich history of producing global models, concepts and parts.

“This styling studio is recognised by our parent company as having capability and capacity to work on various projects,” he said.

“We’re pretty much independent and very proud of the manufacturing history that we have.

“The HiLux Rogue is an example where we’ve worked on what will effectively become a global front face – you’ll see that style of front face popping up in various parts of the world.”

The Rogue, as well as its Australia-only Rugged and Rugged X siblings, were the most recent projects of the division, with the former already on sale in Thailand where it is known as the Rocco.

Additionally, the 2017 HiLux Tonka concept was developed alongside the new HiLux trio, which hit showrooms later this month, with certain design elements shared between these vehicles (see separate story).

Similarly, the 2016 86 Shooting Brake concept was predominately developed locally, while its working prototype was built by Toyota Motor Corporation in Japan.

Special-edition HiLux, Camry and C-HR variants, HiLux accessories, the production Fortuner, and the 2018 Yaris Cross and 2015 HiLux Revo concepts for the Asia-Pacific region are among the division’s other recent projects, with the latter turned around in just eight weeks.

The division, based at TMCA’s former head office in Port Melbourne, Victoria, has also been working on other global models and concepts but was not prepared to disclose specific details yet.

When questioned if TMCA still had the capacity to build models and concepts locally, despite the closure of the Altona factory, Mr Ferguson highlighted the division’s ability to act individually on certain projects.

“This operation here can operate independently from (Altona). The Tonka (concept) was an example of where we took a donor vehicle and built that Tonka truck almost predominately in this facility, so that can continue.

“(But) we will partner with our other affiliates or (TMC) to build a full vehicle prototype like (the 86 Shooting Brake).”

Growing in size by 50 per cent over the past three years, the division now has 150 employees on staff, including a design team that is comprised of 20 creative designers and 15 fabricators.

The division, which still liaises with TMC about local market conditions and customer requirements, is separated into six teams, including the Port Melbourne-based styling and design, product planning, conversion and accessory development, regulations and connected vehicle services units.

Specifically, the styling and design studio features an intricate lighting system that allows team members to check model surfaces in different conditions.

Alternatively, designers can walk around full-scale models using virtual reality, while a fabrication facility allows clay models up to the size of a LandCruiser to be created for reference.

The facility also includes an electronic visualisation studio with a six-metre digital display, 3D printers, a spray booth, clay modelling stations, five-axis milling machines and an auditorium with a central turntable for displaying models, while an outdoor viewing area has two turntables of its own.

Meanwhile, the vehicle evaluation team is located in Notting Hill, Victoria and called upon for its expertise in off-road models, serving as a lasting legacy of TMCA’s local manufacturing operations.

For example, the current-generation HiLux was subject to a six years of local development – including 650,000km of testing – with the resulting steering and suspension specifications used by other markets that have similar conditions to Australia.

TMCA is still planning to build a Centre of Excellence at its former Altona site, which the product planning and development division will eventually move into, but exact timing for this transition remains unknown.

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