Monday, September 5, 2016

The American Voice

A very interesting development from Japan. Via Auto News...
Toyota Motor Corp. is increasing U.S. input in the development of global platforms for midsize cars and trucks after learning with the Prius that engineers in Japan sometimes miss key American market trends. 
It’s part of a wider push to boost U.S. clout in vehicle design at the Japanese carmaker.
Toyota’s American r&d division plans to add nameplates to its development portfolio and to step up the cadence of engineering and designing nameplates already handled locally. 
The last vehicle getting a full redesign at the Toyota Technical Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., was the 2013 Avalon sedan. Toyota now wants to speed full redesigns to one a year out of the U.S., said Jeff Makarewicz, senior vice president for quality and safety engineering at Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing North America, its local r&d and production arm. Before that, redesigns had been on a two-year cycle. 
U.S. engineers already lead the Avalon, Sienna minivan and Tacoma and Tundra pickups. And after recently discontinuing the locally developed Venza midsize car, Toyota also assigned chief engineer Greg Bernas the Sequoia SUV and another vehicle not yet announced. 
“We will bring more projects here,” Makarewicz said last month in an interview.
It is interesting, if it actually works out this way, to see TMC (Toyota Japan) ceding some control to the TMS (Toyota America).
Prius lessonThe latest-generation Prius shows what can go wrong. Shortly after the redesign hit the market late last year, Toyota’s Japanese product planners were thrown for a loop. 
Despite painstakingly engineering every detail on the car, the team leading development of the flagship hybrid out of Japan was unaware a problem was brewing stateside with a seemingly innocuous, but important, feature — the child seat restraints. 
As they toiled, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety was devising a new test of the child restraints. It spelled out recommended equipment for tethering the seats and ways to make the tethers easy to use. 
When the freshly minted Prius didn’t pass muster, it was back to the drawing board — not for the Japan team, but for the American engineers who could best devise the fix.“Our vehicles were initially rated poor, and we immediately took countermeasures,” Makarewicz said. 
The reworked Prius was upgraded to a “Good +” rating in the IIHS Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children, or LATCH, test. But the hang-up underscored what can happen if Japan is unplugged. 
“That’s why it’s important for us to have some input into the lead vehicle,” Makarewicz said. “The [other] TNGA versions have not launched, so there is still some opportunity.”

While one can seldom point directly to one thing or another (which why this car seat example is so important), there, unquestionably, some huge opportunities for Toyota if they open themselves to input from American engineers.