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Toyota streamlines product development

Plug-in future: The mid-sized Toyota NS4 hybrid sedan concept provides a glimpse at future Toyota design.

Akio Toyoda slices through Toyota bureaucracy to put excitement first

10 Apr 2012

STREAMLINED product development structures pioneered at Lexus have been extended to the mainstream Toyota brand, delivering on a promise by Toyota Motor Corporation president and CEO Akio Toyoda to unshackle the company’s designers and engineers to help them deliver more exciting products, faster and cheaper.

The reformed system will develop global architectures to be shared across regions, starting with three new front-drive platforms accounting for about half of Toyota’s global volume, while also ramping up the power of chief engineers for each product by cutting out middle men.

Three regional research and development bases will be created, with Australia being lumped in with Russia, the Middle East, Latin America, Africa and Asia (other than China).

The move appears to be a breath of fresh air in the elephantine corporation with its huge bureaucracy and glacial committee development procedures.

Last year, GoAuto was told by a Lexus product development chief that, before the reforms instituted by Mr Toyoda, more than 120 staffers would attend major product decision meetings in Japan.

 center imageLeft: Toyota Motor Corporation president and CEO Akio Toyoda. Below: FT-Bh concept at geneva and the 86 coupe.

Mr Toyoda revealed at the Lexus GS debut at Pebble Beach, California, last August that the new, more refined Lexus structure was “leading the way in the Toyota corporation” – a hint that the same reforms were in the wind at the mainstream brand of Japan’s biggest motor company.

American-educated Mr Toyoda – grandson of Toyota founder Kiichiro Toyoda – also broke the Japanese-centric hierarchy at Lexus, bringing in more westerners into high-ranking jobs.

“Simply put, we have internationalised Lexus,” he said at Pebble Beach. “We handpicked a team from all over the world to head up a new Global Lexus Division at TMC and have combined engineering, design and marketing all under one unit, separate from any other group.

“Working together with Lexus leaders from every major region across the globe, this group is responsible for key decisions on the business, marketing and future products, representing the voice of customers.

“And, since I am so passionate about the future of Lexus, I wanted to be personally involved.” Mr Toyoda said the streamlined structure had fewer layers, with managers reporting directly to him.

“This allows the team to react quicker to customers’ needs and desires,” he said.

“This internal process is unique from any other division at TMC and I am very pleased with this new direction.” Under the just-announced Toyota product development framework, the company says its Toyota New Global Architecture system will reconcile sweeping advances in product appeal with cost reductions.

It says co-operation between planning and design divisions will result in revised body structures that deliver a lower centre of gravity and bolder styling.

“This will help realise the development of cars with never-before-seen emotional designs and superb handling,” the company said in a statement issued from head office in Toyota City, near Nagoya.

“The Toyota New Global Architecture provides for handling multiple models simultaneously in grouped development projects that will increase the sharing of parts and core vehicle components.” Toyota said the savings would be tipped back into research and development at global and regional levels, allowing the development of even more products.

Product chief engineers – described in the media release as “the development executives closest to the consumer” – will report direct to the product development chief officer, removing a layer of bureaucracy.

“This change is aimed at focusing chief engineers on the task of identifying consumer needs and pursuing product improvements on a continuing basis to address those needs,” Toyota said.

“While allocating development responsibility for product groups to chief engineers, TMC has reinforced the responsibility of the technical teams responsible for testing, bodies, chassis, powertrains and others.

“This move is aimed at fostering specialised technologies in support of the ever-better cars envisioned by the chief engineers and to promote long-term development work on those technologies.” As with Lexus, the number of people attending Toyota design review meetings will be reduced, with “chief engineers now enjoying precedence in the review process”.

As well, Toyota aims to respond more rapidly to regional needs by allocating responsibility for regional products to general managers in each of the three regions, in which North America has been grouped with China, Japan with Europe, and Australia with the rest.

“These regional general managers will co-ordinate with the regional marketing units and development units to optimise Toyota’s product offerings in the regions,” Toyota said.

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