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This Is How Toyota Builds Some Of The World’ Most Reliable Cars

NEWS
Hans July 28, 2015 12:54

Toyota’s reputation for reliability needs no further introduction. Fleet operators swear by their Hiace vans, workmen rely on their Hilux trucks, adventurers trust their lives on their Land Cruiser SUVs, while Corollas and Camrys are commonly passed from father to son/daughter. 

Taxi drivers from around the world also overwhelmingly favour Toyota hybrids, which despite their hi-tech image and complexity, has proven itself to be extremely reliable, with one Austrian taxi driver recently crossing the 1 million kilometre mark on its odometer with the same engine and hybrid battery pack.

Toyota’s President Akio Toyoda is a rather unconventional leader. He is the only head of a major car company besides Aston Martin’s Dr. Ulrich Bez, to personally race his own company’s cars at the Nurburgring 24 Hours.

The great-grandson of Toyota’s founder Sakichi Toyoda, Akio fears that his engineers are getting increasingly reliant on computers, robots and laboratory testing in developing cars. While it is necessary to utilize the latest technology in developing new cars, Toyota’s approach towards technology is rather different.

Toyota’s staff are often reminded to follow the Japanese philosophy of ‘Genchi Genbutsu,’ which roughly translates to ‘go and see for yourself.’ It teaches engineers to not depend on secondary reports when making decisions, but instead, encourages them to go down to the factory floor, and out in the field to get a first-hand experience before coming to any conclusion.

Toyota engineers regularly conduct field visits, gathering data on road conditions from around the world.

Some say that Toyota has the world’s largest database of driving and road conditions from every continent. ‘Listening to the roads’ is something that Toyota engineers are often told to do and remember when developing a new car.

To reinforce the spirit of ‘Genchi Genbutsu,’ Toyota is currently embarking on an unprecedented Five Continents Driving Project, also known as the Ever-Better Expedition in the US. The aim is to test Toyota vehicles in every possible driving condition in every continent, with real production Toyota cars, driven by engineers who will be tasked to build the next generation of Toyota models.

The first leg of the drive began in November 2014, with 50 Toyota engineers driving 15 Toyota models, covering 20,110 km over 72 days, across some of the roughest roads in Australia.

"It was a perfect testing ground as Australian roads represent 80 percent of the world's driving conditions," said Akio Toyoda.

"Throughout the entire project, each and every member of the team was able to learn new things from listening to the cars and roads.

"In fact, after driving on so many roads, our team members' expectations for future test-car courses will never be the same because of all the stark realities that they experienced," said Toyoda.

"Touring Australia reminded us that cars are vital partners in our lives. Any breakdown in the outback has thepotential to be fatal.

"I am confident that our engineers will use the knowledge they have gained on this drive to create ever-better cars for customers. We can't wait to share these new cars with you, and the lessons we have learned, in the near future."

With the rough road driving leg in Australia over, the team has now moved to USA, where another team will drive nine Toyota models across USA and Canada, covering over 26,550 km across 110 days.

One Land Cruiser 200 (right-hand drive, Australian specifications) from the Australian leg continued its journey to the US. Despite the punishing driving conditions experienced, the only breakdown so far has been a faulty alternator.

The convoy recently made a stop to New York city, to experience some of the worst traffic jams in the US and to see for themselves how Toyota’s hybrid models stand up to New York’s stop-go traffic, and how to make better cars for these taxi drivers, who often spend up to 12 hours a day in their Toyota hybrids.

In the '80s, Toyota shared its Toyota Production System with the rest of the world, much to the disappointment of companies like GM, who had expected to uncover some advanced technology employed at Toyota’s plants as the reason behind its stellar quality.

In truth, there was no super advance technology behind Toyota’s quality. It was all about adopting a different way of thinking, of ‘genchi genbutsu.’

To prove a point, Toyota even offered to jointly build cars with GM, at the NUMMI plant in Fremont, California, which was once the worst performing automotive plant in USA.

Toyota employed the same group of staffs initially laid off by GM, which the company said was the worst group of plant workers in the US. Toyota treated them differently and succeeded in training them to build high quality cars. One model, the Toyota Voltz, was even good enough to be exported back to Japan.   

Between 1984 to 2010, some 8 million Toyota, Chevrolet, and Pontiac cars rolled off the NUMMI plant, before GM pulled out of the joint venture, prompting Toyota to do the same, selling the plant to Tesla Motors.

About Hans

As someone who appreciates cars not just for their horsepower value but also for their cultural significance, he is interested in the art of manufacturing and selling cars just as much as driving them. Prior to swapping spread sheets for a word processor, he spent his previous life in product planning and market research.

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