The great majority of people who search through online content — looking at fancy dealer ads and high-def pictures of brands and models on their short-list — have a technical line in the sand they rarely cross. After all, most of us utilize nifty products on a daily basis without really knowing much about the process of integration, supply, development, and manufacturing. When it comes to new vehicle purchases, buyers tend to go right for the meat and potatoes of it: price, fuel economy, passenger room, engine power, towing capacity, etc. But, before that shiny-new Toyota hits a Toyota dealership — or even lands on the factory production floor — it begins in a concept phase that relies heavily on a unique combination of business philosophy and principles which help streamline every aspect of the manufacturing process. Toyota has been ramping up its focus on said principles, which have proven to be both innovative and vital for industries worldwide. Let’s take a look at these game-changing foundational concepts that will undoubtedly continue to influence Toyota products for decades to come.
The Importance of Understanding Japanese Business Practices
Before we can comprehend Japanese practices, we need a little background. Toyota is headquartered in Aichi, Japan, and is renowned for developing unique approaches when it comes to manufacturing. But what is the essence of the philosophy that now impacts not only the Japanese region, but companies and industries across the globe? It begins with what is essentially an aberrational paradox: age-old tradition used in producing hi-tech modern. But how do they effortlessly thrive in a global business segment that has its collective foot on the advanced-technology gas pedal?
It starts with cultural and hierarchical respect of the people who make up the brain trust and work within individual companies. Things are commonly done in a methodical manner and have been for centuries. There is no tolerance for deviating from established principles, and the term “detail-oriented” takes on a whole new meaning for those who live, work, and do business in Japan. Simple business etiquette dictates a situation such as never sitting down before your host prompts you to do so and displaying your business card below a client’s during the exchange — afterwards leaving the card visibly in front of you as a show of respect. Should you meet for tea, don’t even think about drinking from your cup until the client initiates a sip. This type of mindset is what led to the development and implementation of standards that have helped Toyota consistently churn out high-quality products for consumers.
The term “monozukuri” is a bit eclectic in that it draws meaning from different aspects of Japanese cultural life and commerce. If we break it down in simple terms, “mono” represents the thing, and “zukuri” represents how the thing is made. The Japanese External Trade Organization (JETRO) describes monozukuri as “having the spirit of producing excellent products and the ability to constantly improve a production system and process.” After the Japanese economic bubble burst in the ’90s, a re-commitment to monozukuri helped stem the tide of manufacturing losses experienced by the Pacific-rim nation. Japan actually formed a government council to employ monozukuri principles on a broader scale.
TPS = Just In Time
In what can be described as the epitome of efficacious business implementation, the Toyota Production System (TPS), also commonly known as Just in Time (JIT), revolutionized not only the auto industry but many other manufacturing processes as well. Developed back in the ’50s by a Toyota line employee, the trailblazing idea gained traction and eventually became a formal company practice. The basic creed of TPS is to manufacture, store and distribute just enough product to satisfy a company’s immediate production needs — hence, the moniker “Just in Time.” Only goods needed in current assembly projects are summoned, which greatly reduces waste and warehousing costs while increasing needed cash flow. If a company were to order and store a large amount of a particular part — only to find out it’s defective or inferior to other options, this can be problematic and unproductive, to say the least.
To demonstrate how the premise works, we only need to look at American Motorcycle manufacturer Harley-Davidson. Back in the ’80s, the cash-strapped company found itself under siege from Japanese competitors flooding the U.S. market with cheaper and better-built cycles. After a dumping lawsuit failed, they decided to embrace Japanese principles led by the JIT system. The result was a much more efficiently run enterprise with a better-trained workforce who, in turn, exponentially increased quality production that was soon reflected in their bottom line. Another popular company that continues to use JIT to this day is Dell Computers.
Another key aspect of Toyota’s commitment to simplifying production for the betterment of future vehicle quality and overall efficiency arrived a few years ago with the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) initiative. In their own words, Toyota sought to “implement a structural innovation across our global car-making business to produce ever-better cars.” This ingenious endeavor changed the way Toyota and other manufacturers approach the global production of vehicles.
Before TNGA became a reality, Toyota was utilizing over 100 platforms for the complete line of Toyota vehicles. The concept behind TNGA was, on the surface, fairly simple: create fewer platforms that are capable of producing common components that could be more widely implemented across Toyota models. Although many models would share the same components (such as powertrain combinations or interior fixtures), they would still have the unique features and options consumers had come to expect and desire.
By 2020, TNGA, along with principles such as TPS and monozukuri, had successfully downsized the company’s dependence to just a few global platforms underpinning approximately 50% of all Toyota vehicles!
It takes many aspects of the industry becoming a cohesive unit to pull off a monumental shift in production, as seen in Toyota’s steadfast efforts behind initiatives such as TNGA. Everything, from product development to supply chain optimization to efficiency in meeting the immediate needs on the front lines of production, must flow smoothly with few hitches. If not, you’ll have the proverbial “wrench in the machine” that impacts the entire operational harmony. However, not only is Toyota successfully pulling it off, but they hope to have 80% of vehicles produced worldwide from just a handful of platforms by sometime in 2023.
The fruits of the aforementioned labors are already paying dividends as the 2022 models come rolling out. The Corolla Cross, a new entry in the bellicose mini-SUV segment, reportedly offers the same standard dependability, fuel economy, and safety features that consumers expect. The Corolla Cross will even offer a hybrid powertrain in 2023, displaying the flexibility of the TNGA architecture.
A revised chassis and a power uptick highlight one of the few sports cars that won’t crush your wallet. The redesigned 2022 Toyota GR 86 features refined suspension and sleek exterior aerodynamics, thanks to tech provided by the Toyota Gazoo Racing Division. The much anticipated next-gen Toyota Tundra is here, and it’s ready to make a bold statement. Visual improvements to the interior should make a splash, as will the twin-turbo V6 with its hybrid option.
Pursuit of Excellent
One of the key elements of Toyota’s manufacturing philosophy is to always look for ways to improve. While Toyota vehicles often display a preference for tried and true components and designs, Toyota as a company is always advancing into the future. If recent accomplishments are any indication, it appears Toyota is well-suited to continue making strides to secure its position as one of the world’s top automakers.