Modular mojo: Toyota re-engineers its appeal

Thu Mar 26, 2015 12:47am EDT
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By Chang-Ran Kim

TOYOTA CITY, Japan (Reuters) - Toyota Motor (7203.T: Quote) is looking to cast off a reputation for making reliable, but often dull, cars in a wide-ranging review of its designs, technologies, factories and supply deals - a full makeover aimed at staying on top in a cut-throat industry.

For decades, the Japanese automaker carved out global leadership by using common parts across many of its models. This was efficient, but made for uniform styling. A one-size-fits-all layout for the engine's surrounding parts, for example, gave its cars a boxy front end.

Under its ongoing Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) initiative, the automaker will standardize vehicle engineering, such as the optimal 'hip point' seating position for different vehicles, from sedans and sports cars to SUVs and trucks. This cuts the number of air-bag variations needed and allows air-bag modules to be installed from just one side of the assembly line rather than both, making plants more efficient.

Redesigning cars from the ground up, Toyota plans to lower the hood, or bonnet, and center of gravity for better styling and handling. The new vehicle platforms, to feature more fuel efficient engines and rigid, lightweight frames, will be rolled out in stages starting with a medium-sized car this year, widely expected to be the fourth-generation Prius hybrid.

The savings from this overhaul - to be at least a fifth of Toyota's development costs - would be used to add or tailor other high-tech features, such as auto-braking, to suit different markets.

This approach is not new. Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE: Quote), Toyota's rival for the title of the world's biggest automaker, has already rolled out its Modular Transverse Matrix (MQB) in more than a fifth of its vehicles.

In a progress report on Thursday, Executive Vice President Mitsuhisa Kato, the architect of the TNGA outline, said Toyota expects about half of its vehicles in 2020 to feature TNGA platforms.

TNGA reflects the changing nature of the global auto industry. As rivals close the gap on quality and fuel economy, styling and cutting-edge features have become the key battleground. More car for the same price.   Continued...

A model poses beside a Toyota Camry Hybrid during a media presentation of the 36th Bangkok International Motor Show in Bangkok March 24, 2015. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom