Open Forum -- TMC President Akio Toyoda answers questions posed by team members at TMNA's R&D center in York Township, Mich.
Akio Toyoda relished his starring role in the unveiling of the 2018 Camry at the recent North American International Auto Show. But, truth be told, he was just as excited to make the 50-mile journey west from Detroit to York Township, Mich., to get a firsthand update on the expanding operations at Toyota Motor North America Research & Development (TMNA R&D).
Toyota Motor Corporation’s (TMC) president led off his visit with briefings on the progress of the new buildings and a look at some of the advanced technology being developed there in support of his mandate to produce ever-better vehicles.
The highlight of the visit, though, was an open meet-and-greet with TMNA R&D team members in their new Supplier Center.
“I am very excited to see this new facility and to learn about the new ways you are doing your work,” said Toyoda. “Customer expectations are changing. The environment is changing. Laws and policies are changing. We need to understand all of these things and create new ideas and new ways to deliver ever-better cars to our customers.”
Detail Oriented -- Seiya Nakao (far left), TMNA R&D senior vice president, explains key features of a competitor's vehicle body structure.
Team members took full advantage of the rare opportunity to pose questions directly to Toyota’s global leader. And Toyoda didn’t shy away from answering them.
For example, Purchasing Manager Dave Ostreicher wanted to know the best way to get R&D’s many new hires – a byproduct of the One Toyota reorganization – up to speed on the Toyota Way.
“What is the Toyota Way?” said Toyoda. “It’s a complicated question with an evolving answer. What I can say is that we need team members who love cars. Their passion should be transferred to their work every day, making cars that we love and want to drive. That will make customers happy.”
Pradeep Balakrishnan, general manager of Vehicle Performance Development, wanted to know more about the Toyota Environmental Challenge 2050 – the company’s commitment to achieve a net positive impact on the environment by mid-century. A question about the role of battery electric vehicles, offered up by Technical Strategy Planning Office Manager Tina Brinkel, struck a similar chord.
“We are lucky to have such a wonderful place to live,” said Toyoda. “We need to treat it with respect and protect it for the future. Our daily work forces us to think about today and the near term. But we need to think even more about the future of mobility. We need to consider all types of vehicles and provide a diverse lineup. We need to be prepared for whatever our customers demand or need.”
Ultimately, progress on these fronts will likely depend on improved communication between TMC and TMNA R&D. So Program Manager Bob Kupina asked Toyoda: “Any advice on how we can break through?”
“Some may say poor communication is a language issue or it takes too much time, but this is an excuse,” said Toyoda. “We must share ideas and work together to realize ever-better cars. Communication is critical.”
By all accounts, his dialog with the team members in York Township was a good start.
By Dan Miller