NEW TOYOTA MODELS: Toyota will aggressively push hybrids and electric vehicles (such as its i-Road pictured here) as part of its plan to break out of its lull. Image: Toyota
TOYOTA, Japan - Toyota is ready to ramp up its growth again, emerging from an intentional soul-searching lull brought on by its global recall scandal that began in 2009.
The world's top-selling automaker outlined a new "architecture" on Thursday (March 26 2015) focused on product development and manufacturing initiatives it hopes will be more fail-proof against quality problems, and allow it to keep growing in a "sustainable" way.
Its first cars under the new system, medium-sized front-wheel drive units, will roll out later in 2015 and be expanded to half its model range by 2020, the Japanese automaker said.
Toyota executive vice-president, Mitsuhisa Kato, acknowledged that managing the company's global scope and model lineup had become an increasing challenge.
He told reporters at headquarters in Toyota city, central Japan: "It is making our effort to come out with ever better cars increasingly difficult."
He pointed to how company president Akio Toyoda decided to taken an "intentional pause" in rapid growth to strengthen the automaker's competitiveness.
The recall fiasco resulted in more than 10-million vehicles being recalled around the world, mostly in the US, for a range of problems, spanning faulty brakes, sticky accelerators and ill-fitting mats. Toyota paid penalty fines in the US and faced a number of lawsuits.
Before the scandal Toyota had a reputation for high quality, centered around its super-lean production methods that empowered workers to hone in on quality control. Toyota has acknowledged repeatedly that it had tried to grow too fast.
There was no single massive change being pushed at Toyota under the new program, but rather a combination of efforts to guard against quality flaws while maintaining an edge in product appeal, such as cool-looking exterior designs and safety technology.
The plan that Kato kept called TNGA, short for Toyota New Global Architecture, is similar to solutions being pursued by other global automakers, such as Japanese rival Nissan and Germany's Volkswagen, each grappling with balancing quality and growth.
Toyota is facing the challenges of addressing the complexity of developing cars while costs were ballooning for new needs such as compliance and safety features, and consumers weren't willing to pay more, said Deutsche Securities senior analyst Kurt Sanger after hearing Kato's presentation.
Sanger said: "It's impressive in its aspirations and frankly the scale."
In 2014, Toyota sold 10.23-million vehicles, beating Volkswagen and General Motors.
PLAN OF ACTION
In a demonstration at one of Toyota's factories, it showed a variety of technologies it had developed to grow ever leaner while making good cars, ranging from better synthetic leathers to shinier paint jobs.
Toyota said it had programmed robots to simulate the delicate hand movements of a craftsman to shape a car's body. It also created its own way of screwing with lasers that shortened the welding of each screw from two seconds to 0.3. It shortened the line for stamping a metal part from 20m to two by making the machines smaller.
Toyota said it will continue to focus on keeping costs down, while taking on the new steps such as using existing plants and facilities to carry out the changes.
Production lines will be simplified and slimmed down, downsising facilities such as painting booths, and switching to equipment that sits on the plant floor, rather than suspended from above, as is standard today.
Among the other main measures:
• Improving basic vehicle parts such as platforms, which will, Toyota says, "become more sturdy and rigid for increased safety, as well as engines."
• Boosting fuel efficiency it offers through its hybrids such as the Prius.
• Improved handling by lowering the center of gravity of it vehicles.
• Enhancing safety features through sensors, radars and cameras that avoid and detect crashes.