Toyota starts at basics with Mirai assembly in Japan

Article by Christian Andrei, on February 27, 2015

Toyota has been known for its its massive assembly lines producing thousands of vehicles every day. Yet, it has established a workshop that builds just three vehicle everyday, manned by just 13 people. This workshop is for its futuristic fuel cell sedan, the Mirai. What is ironic is that while Mirai is Toyota’s most advanced vehicle, it seems to have a low-tech birth – no conveyors, no andon lines, just a small-batch, kid-glove approach.

Assembly is also done by hand. “Compared with other plants, this has very low productivity,” remarked Mitsuyuki Suenaga, an assistant manager at the Motomachi workshop, which was tasked to build the Mirai. “It is all manual,” he said. But everything has a purpose, as President Akio Toyoda says the Mirai represents a return to roots, in attention to quality and pioneering spirit.

While actual actual production of the Mirai started in December 2014, Toyoda remarked he deliberately chose Feb. 24, 2015, to celebrate as it marks the fifth anniversary of what many in the carmaker consider as its lowerst point.

That day, five years ago, Toyoda testified and was grilled before a congressional panel in United States over the carmaker’s unintended acceleration recalls. “For us, that date marks a new start,” Toyoda.

He said this was to celebrate Toyota’s new start, as it takes a “fresh step” towards the future.” Since then, Toyoda vowed to rebuild Toyota with a back-to-basics emphasis on quality and top-notch product, and chose the Motomachi workshop that also built the iconic Lexus LFA sports car.

For the Mirai, the carmaker picked only master craftsmen known for their car-building expertise, and further honed their skills for two years building the fuel cell vehice. He remarked that at Motomachi, while having not-so-advanced facilities, Toyota relies on the work of skilled employees -- similar to how things were when the carmaker was just starting out.

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