Toyota got to be the world's top carmaker by offering reliable vehicles at reasonable prices. But the result was often some of the most boring car designs going. That's about to change in the wake of a major overhaul.
Toyota has announced a wide-ranging scheme to make its vehicles safer and more appealing to a new generation of car buyers and slash costs at the same time. The plan comes after a pause in product development brought on by the financial crisis of 2008 and a series of recalls that damaged Toyota's image.
Toyota Executive Vice President Mitsuhisa Kato referred to the plan as Toyota New Global Architecture. It is designed to propel the company's expansion beyond 10 million cars sold annually, and keep it ahead of Volkswagen and General Motors as the world's top automaker.
Combination of efforts
The architecture is actually a combination of efforts. On the design side, the company says it will place more emphasis on styling, to make its products stand out in an increasingly competitive market where rivals are closing the gap on fuel economy and price.
Kato, Toyota's top R&D executive, said safety features such as sensors, radars and cameras will be enhanced, and a new generation of motors will be 25 percent more fuel efficient and more powerful than today's Toyota engines. Analysts say Toyota needs to boost appeal fast, as markets become saturated in the developed world, and more selective in the developing world.
But the program, first outlined in 2012, also means consolidating bigger families of vehicles for production and development to save costs. The use of more common modular components across product lines will make it easier to retool assembly lines for new models, creating savings of 40 percent, says Toyota. Toyota currently has about 100 model platforms and 800 engine designs, swelling costs, and hampering innovation.
Production lines will be simplified and made even more efficient. Suppliers will also be allowed to abandon unique Toyota specifications and build to global standards for certain parts, which will also lower costs.
The company says half of the vehicles it produces by 2020 will be built under the new architecture. The first car is expected for later this year, and insiders say it will be a fourth-generation Prius hybrid.
kc/hg (Reuters, AP)