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Development of the Toyota Yaris III

Automotive Testing Technology International speaks to chief engineer, Hirofumi Yamamoto


There are two key factors that define the third-generation Toyota Yaris (also sold as the Vitz), which went on sale in the Fall of 2011.

The first is that Toyota’s damaging recalls of 2009-10 came slap in the middle of the new Yaris’s development, which began in 2007. The second is that Toyota has acknowledged the limited market appeal of the conservative Yaris II, and has tried to target its successor at a younger, less predominantly female market.

“The recall had a big impact on the development side,” explains Hirofumi Yamamoto, the new car’s chief engineer. “We actually stopped developing the car and spent a month reviewing both the previous [development] process and the each element of the car’s design, one by one. In particular we focused on the difference between how a customer thinks and how we on the development side think. Partly we adjusted our processes to take account of how the customer thinks, especially European customers, and changed some elements of the design.”

Fortunately for Yamamoto-san and his team – about 2,000 engineers worldwide, including some 300 in Europe – that review process came just before the first of around 200 physical prototypes was built, although the project’s half-dozen or so mule vehicles were already running.

In the wake of the recalls, Toyota’s simultaneous engineering program was ramped up as part of an unprecedented quality focus in manufacturing and sourcing. Some 900 improvements were made to 700 parts of the Valenciennes, France-manufactured version of the Yaris III, with similar programs for other production sites that use different suppliers (Yaris is made in six countries around the world). Euro100 million has been invested in the Valenciennes factory for Yaris III, including in a new press shop scanner to control the accuracy of stamped parts.

Aside from quality, a more youthful image was the other main priority for the third-gen Yaris. Around 20% of components are carried over from the previous model, mostly platform parts. But Yamamoto-san wanted the new car to feel very different.

“I wanted to improve the dynamic performance of the car – handling, ride comfort and NVH,” he says. “Honestly speaking, the second-generation car was a bit lower in this area compared to some of its competitors and with the new car I wanted to match competitors like the [Ford] Fiesta and [VW] Polo.”

A lighter, more rigid body; lighter, extensively reworked suspension; a 3° change in the steering column rake; and a quicker steering gear ratio are all ways in which Yamamoto’s team sought to improve the Yaris’s dynamic performance and make it more engaging to drive. For the same reason, the trademark central instrument binnacle of the first two Yaris generations was dropped in favor of a driver-focused, conventional dashboard layout. He notes that a majority of customers felt the central speedo made the Yaris too MPV-like [although personally I liked it! – GH].

With the car production-ready, two 50-car MPT (mass production trial) phases were completed at Valenciennes from late-2010 to July 2011, ahead of SOP. Toyota is targeting European sales of 200,000 Yarises in 2012, including the full-hybrid version that is scheduled to join the range from mid-year.


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