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Hoping to emerge with a new class of vehicle in order to gain a following among a whole new group of buyers, Toyota has engineered the Matrix on the ninth-generation Corolla platform. The class: subcompact crossover-utility vehicle. The intended target: the burgeoning group under 30.

Although the Camry gets a whole lot more attention in the market, the Corolla is actually a vehicle that is fundamental to not only the Camry, but arguably to the Lexus. Corolla embodies the Toyota characteristics of quality, reliability, durability, and value. Although the new Corolla may resemble a Camry, chief engineer Takeshi Yoshida takes exception to comparisons of the Corolla as “baby Camry.” And speaking of Lexus: the Cambridge, Ontario, assembly plant that builds this car will be the first plant outside of Japan to build a Lexus.

Into the Matrix

Based on the platform of the ninth generation of the best-selling car in the world, the Toyota Corolla, the Matrix is possibly the shape of things to come. And it marks changes in thinking and even process at Toyota.

The New Math

Here are equations for what is arguably a new type of vehicle:

SC + SUV + SCS
Where
SC — sports car
SUV — sport utility vehicle
SCS — subcompact sedan

And
PF + F + P
Where
PF — performance
F — functionality
P — price

The sum of both equations is the same: 2003 Corolla Matrix Crossover Utility Vehicle

 

A Philosophical Consideration

The Matrix concept is as important for what it is not as it is for what it is. If you don’t understand what I just said, ask your teenager. I did. And it did make perfect sense to her.”
– David Terai, Corolla Matrix assistant chief engineer,Toyota Motor Corp.

 

Discussion of Preceding

The objective of the Corolla Matrix—or simply the Matrix, as it will be commonly known—is an effort by Toyota to create a product that will reach consumers who are chronologically (or, perhaps, even psychologically) south of 30. Apparently, the people who buy the Toyota Corolla subcompact sedan have a median age of 44 years old. The people at Toyota don’t have anything against people over 30. They just realize that the future customer base is under 30. And their efforts at appealing to what they’re referring to as the “net generation” via the Echo is not what could be described as a resounding success.

What the Matrix isn’t is a vanilla sedan. The initial styling for the Matrix came out of Toyota’s CALTY Design Studio in Newport Beach, California, from which designs emerged for cars like the current Celica (which (A) resonates and (B) is salsa, not vanilla). The stylists were given the direction: Come up with a vehicle that typifies “Street Performance Utility.”

One way of looking at it is: Plenty of kids buy and modify Honda Civics, especially the hatch versions. These so-called “tuners” are exceedingly appealing to car companies because not only do they represent the future, they love cars. (I think that plenty of people in the “net generation” are more concerned with RAM than hp; the cars they care about are the ones on PlayStation’s Gran Turismo.)

Thus, a new type of vehicle that is functional (fits five passengers; seats fold flat) without being a sport ute (the Nissan Xterra might be considered cool, but that’s about the length of that list) or a minivan (the list doesn’t exist), a car that, when fitted with a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine that provides 180 hp @ 7,600 rpm and 130 lb-ft of torque @ 6,800 rpm and a six-speed transmission, moves.

 

A Consideration

Why a discussion of what are arguably marketing-related notions in what is essentially a magazine of product and process development? Simple. If you aren’t thinking about designing and building stuff that the market demands, you’d better be thinking about unemployment compensation.

 

What it is not, Part II

“As you know, we spend a lot of time here in the U.S. trying to figure out the marketplace. On a recent visit, a dealer told me that he really liked the Corolla. . .because it was like a baby Camry.

“I would like to offer a different perspective.

“Within Toyota, Corolla is seen by many as the DNA of corporate engineering. When it was launched in 1966, it made a defining statement: that quality, reliability and durability could be affordable. . . . Corolla was the starting point for a thread that has run through every Toyota, regardless of segment or price range, for the last 35 years. In every Camry—in every Lexus—there is the soul of a Corolla.” –Takeshi Yoshida, Corolla chief engineer, Toyota Motor Corp. 

 

 

Yoshida is responsible for the ninth-generation Corolla sedan. It is a car with a considerable reputation. For example, for 32 of the 35 years it has been available in Japan, it was the best-selling car. It is available in 142 countries. It has become the all-time best-selling car on the planet, with more than 25-million units sold.

Yet interestingly enough, there is a sense of sibling rivalry voiced in Yoshida’s words. “Baby Camry”? While the Camry has been the best-selling car in America for the past four years, Yoshida indicates that the Corolla is a car in its own right, a car that is even at the basis of what makes a Lexus a Lexus.

One important lesson to draw from this: It is good to have rivalry among the chief engineers for different vehicle lines if the competition results in vehicles like the Corolla and the Camry.

 

About Lexus

Speaking of Lexus: the Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada (TMMC) plant in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada, is where the Corolla and its platform fraternal twin the Matrix are being built. The production plans call for about 225,000 Corollas per year and 70,000 to 75,000 Matrices. (Corollas are also produced at the GM-Toyota NUMMI joint venture facility in Fremont, California, which is also the source of the Matrix-derived Pontiac Vibe, which will be modified with right-hand-steering for sale in Japan as the Voltz.) The TMMC plant will become the first factory outside of Japan to build a Lexus. The RX300 is slated to go into production at TMMC in 2003. According to Don McFalls, TMMC vice president of Quality, the Corolla build in Cambridge is something of a prelude to the Lexus inasmuch as the build specs for the compact car (especially in the interior, where a great deal of attention is paid) are derived from the luxury marque.

McFalls says that the Lexus concept is to make everything to nominal. In other words, everything must be kept to zero, not plus or minus. He notes that this is something that they’ve worked hard to make their suppliers understand. It’s not about a range. It’s about zero.

 

Importance of a Job Well Done

McFalls says that while they use things like quality-in-station methods (which are, of course, part of the Toyota Production System) and an array of gages and coordinate measuring machines to help assure quality of manufacture, there is something that is key at Cambridge. McFalls explains to the associates who are building the cars that the quality of their work—of what they do—has a direct consequence on people who are just like them: the people who buy the cars that they have built.

He emphasizes to the plant associates that people who buy those cars depend on them, and if those cars don’t work because of a quality problem, then the people who have built them are really at fault.

“I don’t want to let any of the people who buy our cars down,” McFalls says. While quality is sometimes defined as being “unexpected delight,” it is also about a car that starts every morning and doesn’t have squeaks, rattles, and recalls.

Building quality products isn’t only about measuring equipment and control charts. It is also about workers understanding that their activities have consequences.

 

Vroom!

The Matrix is available in three grades: Standard, XR, XRS. The “hot hatch” of the group is the XRS, as it is fitted with the 2ZZ-6E engine and the C60 six-speed overdrive manual transmission—the same setup as the Celica GTS. The 1.8-liter twin-cam engine has some interesting points:

  • With 82-mm bore x 85-mm stroke, the engine provides 100 hp/liter of displacement.
  • The block and head are aluminum. (OK. It’s in a Toyota. So that’s not particularly interesting, as it is common within the company’s offerings. But not all automakers have made the switch.)
  • There is close spacing between the bores to help improve performance. In effect, while most engines have a spacing like [O O O O], in this engine it is more like [OOOO]. This is done to enhance thermal efficiency.
  • Unlike other engines with aluminum blocks, there are no steel liners cast (or otherwise fitted) in the bores. Instead, there is a metal-matrix composite (MMC) used to create the cylinders. The MMC surface is created by placing ceramic fibers in a cylindrical shape in the block form, then pouring the molten aluminum around the fibers. Finally, there is a chemical honing process performed on the bore surface; this causes the ends of the fibers to be exposed in the cylinder. Consequently, the piston rings ride on the fibers, not on the aluminum surface. According to Paul Williamsen, curriculum manager, University of Toyota (Torrance, CA), this arrangement should last longer than the steel-liner approach.
  • Although this is a Toyota engine, it was designed by Yamaha. It is assembled off-line by Yamaha.

 

So Long Center Diff

Whereas the XRS is available in front-wheel-drive only, the Standard and XR versions are offered with front- or full-time four-wheel-drive systems. Both the Standard and the XR are equipped with 1.8-liter engines. If the setup is front-wheel-drive, the engine provides 130 hp @ 6,000 rpm; if it is four-wheel-drive, it is 123 hp @ 6,000 rpm. While Toyota has offered four-wheel-drive systems in the past, the 2003 Matrix gets something different. In place of the center differential that had been used in the transfer case, there is a viscous coupling at the tail end of the drive shaft. If there is slippage on one of the front drive wheels, then the viscous coupling (the fluid thickens with heat) reacts by reapportioning as much as 50% of the torque to the rear wheels.

 

Three Is a Charm

Just as the Matrix is available in three grades, so is the Corolla: CE, LE, S. The S version will be the one that is seen most often in ads and the like. The goal, less so than with the Matrix, but there just the same, is to try to appeal to young buyers (thus the ground-effects package). Chief engineer Yoshida explains, “We have always felt that if we can attract young buyers early, we can retain them for life. Of course, this strategy is of little use if your cars are of little interest to young buyers.” Right now, the median age of Corolla buyers is 44 years old. Observes David Terai, “That’s three years older than the segment average, and five years older than the segment leader, the Honda Civic.”

The Corolla S should help drive down the age. The Corolla Matrix should really help.

 

The Big Open Office “Oobeya”

This has made a big difference in the way that the Corolla was developed. Translated, it means open office. Yoshida explains, “It is a process, similar in concept to simultaneous engineering, but more involved. The open office is an environment that engages everyone at once, and considerably earlier than ever before. In the open office, all disciplines were pulled forward at the beginning, or drawing stage, of the development process. All aspects of vehicle development were analyzed at once. Priorities were set and decisions were made, promptly, as a group.”

Although work up front has long been known to be done by Toyota (as well as by other companies), seemingly Yoshida’s oobeya approach is taking this to a whole new level.

He admits that the big open office didn’t take a whole lot of time out of the Corolla development process: 31 months was the development time. It did help cut time out of the development of the platform-mate, the Matrix, which was completed in 21 months.

Where it has had the biggest benefit is in the area of doing things right up front. As Yoshida explains, “By front-loading the combined experience and knowledge of the entire team, we drew a more accurate blueprint of how the vehicle would emerge from the assembly line.

How many chief engineers can make this statement: “Zero design changes were made after final blueprints were set”? One that we know of.

It bears repeating: “Zero design changes were made after final blueprints were set.”

That’s the power of upfront work.

It has contributed to a reduction in development cost. By reducing development cost, it is possible to add more content to the vehicle, to provide more value to the customer. More effective engineering can mean more competitive vehicles.

 

The Big Open Office in the Office

If you say “kaizen” to someone and they’re familiar with the term for continuous improvement, they probably think, “Oh, that’s for the factory.” Likewise, I’m sure, oobeya is thought to work in product development. But these processes know no bounds. They even work in the office.

Don Esmond, senior vice president and general manager, Toyota Div. (Torrance, CA) points out that the marketing department of Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), the company responsible for selling Toyotas in North America, were part of the big office process. Instead of being brought in to the picture 12 months before a vehicle goes on sale, TMS Marketing was brought in 21 months prior to launch of the Corolla (remember: this is the main vehicle, with the Matrix, in effect, a subset).

So what does this have to do with developing and building cars? Plenty. Consider this: “One of the key priorities with the new Corolla,” Esmond says, “was to improve value to the customer through increased feature content. The launch team proposed to Toyota Motor Corporation-Production that content might be added at minimal cost-up if it was included as standard equipment.”

That recommendation was acted on, so there are such standard features as CD player, rear window defogger, 60/40 split seats, full wheel covers, digital clock, and body-side molding.

Here’s the vital thing: “By efficiently integrating these features as a group into the master production plan, the factory was able to provide these features at virtually no net cost-up.”

One of the problems that is faced in factories is scheduling options. By creating this group, the scheduling is greatly simplified and costs can be cut. Marketing gets what it wants—Esmond notes, “Marketing incentives are a huge burden on the bottom line. By getting the price right at launch, we think we can limit the use of incentives. It’s cheaper and it’s simpler, and it’s smarter”—and it’s not being done on the backs of the people in Production.

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