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Toyota to boost Australian product development

Right turn: Toyota has invested more than $US3 billion in its San Antonio assembly plant in Texas ahead of the next-generation Tundra’s release, expected late next year. But will it come in RHD?

Recruitment drive surrounds vehicle conversion project but Toyota Tundra not in mix

21 Jul 2020

TOYOTA Australia is laying the groundwork for a significant boost to its product planning and development division, recruiting senior personnel for a two-year assignment that includes work on a vehicle conversion project and will “bring to market highly desirable products that meet the future needs of customers”.


While the timing ties in neatly with the expected North American debut late next year of the new-generation Tundra full-size pick-up – a model for which Toyota Australia has spent years working on a business case and remains an ongoing study – the local subsidiary of the Japanese auto giant has told GoAuto that there are still no plans to convert the Tundra to right-hand drive in Australia.


This holds true for either an in-house conversion operation in the foreseeable future or one that is developed in collaboration with a third party such as Walkinshaw Automotive Group, which currently converts Ram and Chevrolet pick-up trucks for this market.


In a nutshell, the latter just “doesn’t really align with the Toyota philosophy”.


A Toyota Australia spokesperson also said the two new ‘conversions project co-ordinator’ roles currently being advertised – one a senior position, the other more general – would contribute to existing projects already underway at its Port Melbourne design, engineering and product testing and evaluation centre.


“These new roles will further strengthen the expertise within our product planning and development division, and will contribute to existing projects that work to continually progress Toyota’s advanced and future technologies,” the spokesperson said.


In the job description, Toyota says the senior project co-ordinator will be “primarily responsible for leading a vehicle conversion project, co-ordinating stakeholders through the design, development, evaluation and production preparation, working with multiple areas and providing direction on business strategy and planning to bring to market highly desirable products that meet the future needs of customers”.


The role is specified as a key liaison point “in respect of conversions projects for stakeholders, suppliers and customers, including global company headquarters”.


Toyota also says the position “would suit someone with experience in new automotive technologies looking to take a leadership role to deliver projects, or someone with proven track record in project management and leading cross-divisional teams who has a keen interest in the automotive industry”.


A separate position is also currently being advertised for a product planning specialist who will “support the development of future model line-ups for commercial vehicles”.


The product planner will, according to the advertisement, be expected to “strategically develop commercially sound product strategies to determine product specification, price and volume, with insight into the customer and marketplace of the future”.


The successful candidate will also be required to present key findings from market and product research directly to Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) in Japan.


Senior industry sources have told GoAuto that Toyota’s latest recruitment drive points to a major product initiative.


If not Tundra, this could simply tap into the ongoing Australian-developed, Thai-built HiLux Rogue and Rugged X programs that have carried through to the updated series that will be released late August, however the company has made it clear to GoAuto that any future performance models that would rival the Ford Ranger Raptor with a significant powertrain upgrade – which is something to watch out for – would not be the responsibility of the local R&D operations.


There are also no moves for Australian development of fuel-cell electric vehicles, such as a locally converted HiAce FCEV, which could be used for pilot purposes as Toyota invests heavily in its hydrogen centre at the company’s former car manufacturing plant at Altona in Melbourne’s west.


As GoAuto has reported, this centre will deliver Victoria’s first commercial-grade hydrogen refuelling station by the end of this year and will be supported by a hydrogen production and storage facility.


As much as the specific new roles supporting an Australian vehicle conversion project sound tantalising with respect to Tundra, a right-hook full-size pick-up remains a long shot given TMC’s preference for ex-factory production worldwide.


The high costs involved in tooling up to service a relatively small market – one that could elicit up to 10,000 extra sales if New Zealand is part of the equation – also greatly diminish the likelihood of a right-hand-drive version of the Texas-built Tundra that last year sold more than 111,000 units Stateside.


That said, TMC is investing $US13 billion ($A18.7b) in its US operations over a five-year period through to 2021, focusing on factory upgrades – including more than $US3 billion ($A4.3b) at its San Antonio truck assembly plant – and vehicle and powertrain development.


On the latter, the next-generation Tundra has been linked with a monster 450kW 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 petrol engine, a 3.5-litre twin-turbo V6, a hybrid powertrain and, based on a recently published patent application, an all-new high-compression engine that could be either petrol or diesel.


In an interview with GoAuto in May, Toyota Australia’s manager of technical services, prototyping and operations Cameron Brimelow said the product planning and development team was growing and attracting top talent who are working on a combination of local and international programs.


“We’re not making cars in the country anymore, but, in Toyota at least, we’re designing a lot more locally than we ever have,” he said.


“We’ve got world-class designers, engineers. It’s my dream job with all the ‘toys’ that we’ve got here … we’ve got some really good skills, we’ve got the right equipment, we do global projects, we do local accessories.”


The department has this year also developed personal protective equipment (PPE) to assist frontline workers in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, and in recent years has supported start-up companies such as TomCar all-terrain vehicles and various community services outside automotive, from patient ‘journey boards’ in hospitals to specialist kayaks and wheelchairs for Paralympians.

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