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Q&A with Masahisa Nagata, Toyota Motor Europe

The executive vice president of R&D and purchasing, Toyota Motor Europe (TME) discusses the importance of suppliers and the forthcoming global architecture

 

Please give us an update on Toyota’s R&D activity in Europe.
Since 2005 we’ve gradually expanded our facilities. Two years ago we added a test track; it’s small but it’s enough to begin with. We don’t intend to expand our R&D activity but it’s important to increase the quality level of our R&D activity.

At the beginning, 20 years ago, it was all about liaising with suppliers but recently we’ve done real development – the Verso minor model change (pictured below) was done completely in Europe by TME. We’ve no intention of creating entire new models on our own in Europe. But there are many competitors in Europe, and European demands are very high. There are many capable suppliers in Europe with a high level of technology and it’s mainly about how to utilize them. This is the key point at the planning stage, on which I’d like to concentrate, regardless of whether the car’s being developed by TMC or in Europe, and particularly in the A, B and C segments. As an engineering team, we’re trying to become indispensible to TMC.

So European engineers are getting involved earlier in vehicle programs?
Yes. For example, the development of the TNGA (Toyota New Global Architecture) platform is in the very early stages. We’re very much involved in developing this. The main focus for the platform will be the A, B and C segments, maybe even the D segment and larger. The fundamental technologies will be similar for all. There are so many strong suppliers with advanced techologies in Europe, therefore the key is to collaborate with these suppliers, to develop such technology and introduce it into Toyota’s vehicles to make them better.

What is the timescale for the new global architecture?
The work is ongoing, several more years will be needed. Our concern with TNGA first of all is making more capable cars with high performance. Of course we’d like to increase the volume [of common parts], but if we do this, we need to develop the most appropriate production system and decide on the most appropriate facility with our suppliers. We like to change our production process or method together with suppliers; in Japenese we call it Monotsukuri. Together we can understand the customer’s requirements, and what the important points and the difficult points in production are, and then we can decide together the best facility and how to secure stable production and quality.

I believe Toyota cannot develop a car alone; together with suppliers, with open and honest communication, we can. Sometimes we’re faced with challenges and the Toyota engineers ask many questions of the suppliers; for some suppliers, this is a new experience. At first they didn’t think we trusted them. But that wasn’t our intention. We just like to understand the challenge and solve the problem together. Sometimes Toyota’s engineers need to be educated and the key is communication.

 

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