To make up for lost ground in the battery electric vehicle (EV) market, Toyota is leveraging its famous lean manufacturing methods and combining them with new technology. The automaker aims to close the gap with Tesla and other rivals by focusing on efficiency and cost reduction in its manufacturing processes.
Toyota showcased some of its latest advances during a plant tour in central Japan, revealing self-propelled assembly lines, massive die casting, and even traditional hand polishing techniques. The company demonstrated thrifty ingenuity by developing a method to produce high-gloss bumpers without paint. The bumper mold is hand polished to a mirror finish, giving it a lustrous appearance.
In addition to these improvements, Toyota has automated three-decade-old equipment through robotics and 3D modeling, resulting in a notable increase in productivity. The company claims that equipment productivity has tripled due to these advancements. Toyota’s Chief Product Officer, Kazuaki Shingo, highlighted the strength of the company’s manufacturing lies in its ability to adapt to changing times, thanks to its engineering and technology expertise anchored in the Toyota Production System (TPS).
The TPS has been widely recognized for revolutionizing modern manufacturing with its lean production system, just-in-time delivery, and kanban workflow organization. Toyota’s relentless focus on continuous improvement and cost reduction has propelled its ascent in the automotive industry. However, in the EV market, the company has struggled to keep up with the likes of Tesla, which has used its own efficiencies to achieve market-leading profitability.
In June, Toyota set forth an ambitious plan to ramp up its production of battery EVs under the leadership of its new CEO, Koji Sato. This move follows years of criticism that Toyota was slow to fully embrace electric technology, considering its success in the hybrid vehicle segment with the industry-leading Prius. With only a 0.3% share of the global EV market in 2022, according to Goldman Sachs, Toyota recognizes the need for a stronger EV offering in its lineup.
One of the innovative production techniques emphasized by Toyota is its self-propelled assembly lines, which eliminate the need for conveyor equipment and provide greater flexibility in production. The company demonstrated this technology by showcasing EVs inched along the line without a roof, allowing for easy installation of parts. Robots and autonomous forklifts handled tasks such as lowering car seats into the EV bed.
Toyota also introduced a prototype of a die-casting technology called “gigacasting,” similar to what Tesla pioneered, which allows for the production of larger aluminum parts. Toyota has made its own innovations in this area, utilizing quick mold replacement techniques developed through years of experience in die-casting. This technology reduces the time required to change the mold and results in a 20% boost in productivity, according to the company.
Furthermore, to optimize logistics and reduce physical burden on workers, Toyota has introduced self-driving transport robots that ferry new vehicles across a 40,000 square meter parking lot at its Motomachi plant in Toyota City. Previously, this task was carried out by truck drivers, who would fetch cars manually. The automaker plans to have 10 of these robots in operation by next year and may consider implementing them in other plants.
In conclusion, Toyota is leveraging its lean manufacturing methods and combining them with new technology to close the EV sales gap with rivals like Tesla. The automaker’s focus on efficiency, cost reduction, and continuous improvement across its manufacturing processes is aimed at increasing its market share in the rapidly growing EV industry.