DETROIT--Toyota is changing the way it develops cars for North America in the wake of a global recall crisis that bashed the company's reputation for safety.
The overhaul includes having engineering teams assigned to one vehicle cross-check the development work being done on other vehicles. Toyota also plans to install more vehicle accessories at the factory rather than at the dealership.
Shigeki Terashi, president of Toyota's North American technical center in Ann Arbor, Mich., says the company is tweaking the way vehicles are engineered to do a better job of matching the use preferences of U.S. drivers.
"This is something we should have been doing from a long time ago," Terashi said in a recent interview. "But the fact that the quality initiatives occurred is accelerating this initiative."
Toyota has recalled 11.2 million cars worldwide since last fall to fix a variety of problems. For the first time, Toyota is having development teams review work on other vehicles. Terashi calls the approach the "series concept" and says it was pioneered at his technical center.
Until now, development teams for each vehicle operated mostly in closed silos with little interaction with other teams. Under the new approach, one team will hand its car over to another for evaluation and review.
"This means the vehicle is evaluated with twice the severity as it was in the past," Terashi said. Any problems that are unearthed can be troubleshot in both models.
The approach is already paying off. The U.S. team for the Avalon sedan recently reviewed the next-generation Camry that is being developed by a team in Japan. After testing it at Toyota's Arizona proving ground, the U.S. team concluded that it was underperforming in terms of damping, cabin noise and vibration, and sent it back to Japan for further work, Terashi says.
"This takes a lot more time," he says. "But a reason people want to give it a try is because of the quality issue. They are willing to spend the time to make it work."
Toyota also plans to install more dealer accessories at its plants to avoid problems such as improperly installed floor mats. Toyota had to recall millions of vehicles last fall because it was determined that loose or layered floor mats could jam the gas pedal and trigger unwanted acceleration.
Terashi cited floor mats and aluminum wheels as the kind of add-ons under review. Toyota's engineers also will have a much bigger role in designing some dealer-installed accessories that previously would have been developed by Toyota Motor Sales in consultation with dealerships.
"Rather than take apart something already assembled and install something else, it will be installed only once," Terashi said. "It's going to help quality and drive down costs.
(Source: Automotive News)