Toyota plans R&D overhaul

11 April 2012

TOKYO: Toyota, the Japanese automaker, is transforming its innovation strategy, and adopting a more "visionary" approach when designing new vehicles.

The company has introduced a system called the Toyota New Global Architecture, via which it will develop several cars simultaneously. The long term aim is to use common parts in 50% of its output.

Such a scheme should cut costs by around 30%, meaning these resources can then be directed towards projects like modernising cars in other ways so they suit the needs of individual markets.

Engineers will also receive higher decision-making authority, and the number of executives involved in signing off proposals will be greatly reduced from up to 100 at present.

Moreover, the firm has formed three operating units for the Toyota marque, covering North America and China, Japan and Europe, and Australia, Russia and emerging markets. These areas were grouped based on common shopper tastes.

Akio Toyoda, the organisation's chief executive, suggested the automotive boom experienced prior to the downturn caused a degree of inertia where innovation was concerned.

"The feeling at the time was, 'If we build it, they will come,'" he said, Reuters reported. "Instead of developing what customers would want next, we were making cars that would rake in sales."

Broader changes to be implemented by the firm include facilitating greater cooperation between its planning and design teams, and being less reliant on customer feedback, which can encourage conservatism.

Toyota argued the previous process had been "too democratic", whereas the revised strategy would move in the "direction" of that used by Apple, the consumer electronics pioneer.

"Design should not be a problem of simply making what customers tell you to make," he said. "We want to take more risks ... We need to be more visionary."

Among the early examples of the company's are the recently-unveiled Prius C hybrid, the new Camry and Avalon in the US and the Etios in India.

"For someone to passionately like a design, we have to be prepared for some people to hate it," said Tokuo Fukuichi, Toyota's chief designer.

"Toyota's problem was that it had too many filters. When you have that many people weighing in, you end up developing cars by eliminating the negatives, not by creating something positive, by taking risks."

Data sourced from Reuters, Wall Street Journal, New York Times; additional content by Warc staff