Toyota Doing It Differently

That’s right. The company that is typically known for a relentless, methodical approach has done some things differently as it has developed the second-generation Yaris and the third-generation RAV4. There’s no getting into a rut for these guys.
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A Developing Consistency.

The development of the underpinnings for the Yaris (platform, architecture or whatever else you care to call it: that which serves as the basis upon which the vehicle is built, with the visible attributes being those things that use it as the basis) took, says, Junichi Furuyama, chief engineer for the Yaris sedan, two years.

The development of the underpinnings of the ’06 RAV4 (ditto previous parenthetical explanation) took, says Kiyotaka Ise, RAV4 executive chief engineer, two years. 

The upper portions for the Yaris (sedan and three-door, which are U.S.-available and a five-door, which is available in other markets, such as Europe, which won’t be getting the sedan: apparently just as there is concern about trying to sell the five-door in the U.S., there are similar feelings as regards the sedan in Europe) and the RAV4 (globally available, but Ise says the U.S. market is far and away primary) required a year.

See a pattern developing at Toyota in terms of development time?


Temporal Limits—or Practical Ones?

Asked whether he thinks the development time can be driven down much lower, Furuyama notes that the goal, of course, is to reduce the amount of time, but he thinks that given the complexity of the undertaking (noting especially that the chassis and the powertrain are engineering-intensive), the approximate time will probably remain the same.

A point here is that while they are always interested in continuous improvement, there are probably some physical limits at which point the development time reduction that has been measured first in years, then in months, will probably start being measured more in weeks or days. There very well may be an edge that is impractical to push past vis-à-vis development time. Of course, if there’s a boundary and a benefit to be found by pushing it back, it is a certainty that Toyota engineers will be in the fore of pushing.


Different. But the Same.

Here’s something that you probably wouldn’t imagine to be the case with regard to the development of the Yaris in its three-door and four-door (i.e., sedan) styles. Kosuke Shibahara (who had been in charge of the Corporate Planning Div. of Toyota Motor Corp.*) was the chief engineer for the former and the aforementioned Furuyama handled the latter. Furuyama came to the Yaris program from the current-generation 4Runner program, for which he was the chief engineer. Different people working on, fundamentally, the same car. To be sure, different versions, but still the second-generation Yaris. Furuyama says, “Although chief engineer Shibahara and I were both developing Yaris models at the same time, we did not share a common work space. In fact, this was by design. Our conscious effort was to ensure that the liftback and the sedan would be two distinct models. As a result, it is interesting that we both embraced a design philosophy centered on the idea of ‘pride.’”


So what do we have here?

  1. The oobeya, or open-office approach, were everyone gets together in one place for purposes of product development, was not deployed. In order to achieve distinction between the two vehicles they had their own space. In terms of styling, the Yaris liftback was done at the Toyota studio in France, Toyota Europe Design Development (ED2), while the sedan was styled at the Toyota City Corporate Design Center.
  2. Although the U.S. version of the car known elsewhere as the Yaris was the Echo, a vehicle that didn’t resonate particularly well in the U.S., in Europe the Yaris was Toyota’s best-selling car. Certainly something to be proud of. This is a car that is to be sold throughout the world (in Asia-Pacific markets, too), so it is no small undertaking. Note that Furuyama says that there was an effort to mark the car with the notion of “pride.” This is a subcompact car, yet there is nothing that is to be self-effacing about it. “Most subcompact car buyers usually don’t make emotional purchases. They buy their cars for economic reasons. But I wanted Yaris owners to feel proud about their car, the same pride felt by owners of SUVs and luxury vehicles,” says Furuyama.
  3. Two different chief engineers. Two different versions. Two different development areas. Two different development schedules. Yet one design philosophy emerged, separation notwithstanding.


Distinctly Different.

For the development of the RAV4, Ise points out that they deployed an approach that is oft-used by Toyota designers and engineers: genchi-genbutsu. Which means, essentially, “go, look and see for yourself.” Which can be roughly translated as “field research.” So out they went to see for themselves. And they concluded something that isn’t entirely surprising: American customers like things that are big, roomy, and comparatively comfortable. Europeans are typically more interested in vehicles that are smaller, maneuverable, and firm. While gasoline price spikes have caused some U.S. consumers to figure out what “MPGs” spells, in Europe (where it is l/km), gas prices (as well as taxes on things like overall size and engine displacement) have already resulted in interests in engines of a different nature. So a result, Ise says, is, “The U.S. market RAV4 will have a much loner wheelbase than the RAV4 developed for the European market. The European market will get smaller displacement engines, a diesel option, and a level of suspension tuning much stiffer than that offered in North America.”


Bigger in the U.S.A.? You Bet.

“We increased the overall length of the RAV4 by more than 14 inches and the overall width by more than three inches over the previous generation,” says Ise of the U.S. model. So the third-generation’s overall length is 181.1 in., a gain of 14.5 in.; it has a wheelbase of 104.7 in., which is 6.7 in. more; it has an overall width of 71.5 in., or 3.2 in. greater than the second generation; and the overall height is 66.3 in., or 0.6 in. higher than the ’05 model.

(What is interesting to note is that the Toyota Highlander, the bigger brother of the RAV4, isn’t all that much bigger. For example, its length is 184.6 in., wheelbase 106.9 in., width 71.9 in. While some might consider the RAV4 to be a “compact” and the Highlander a “midsize,” it seems like this requires taking the “Super Size” factor into account.)

The standard engine for the RAV4 is a 2.4-liter, four cylinder engine. It is a carryover from the ’05 model. Yet it has gotten “bigger,” not physically, but in the sense of having more horsepower: up five to 166 hp @ 6,000 rpm. (The torque—165 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm—is the same.) The engine, which has an aluminum block and magnesium heads, now has a higher compression ratio (9.8:1 vs. 9.6:1). While there is an increase in power, the estimated MPGs are improved, however (24 city/29 highway for 4x2; 23/27 for 4x4).

However, “bigger” means, at least for a “compact” a six cylinder engine, so the RAV4 is also available with a 3.5-liter V6, which provides 269 hp @ 6,200 rpm and 246 lb-ft of torque @ 4,700 rpm. This all-aluminum engine features not just variable valve timing with intelligence (VVT-i), but dual VVT-I (which, for example, optimizes intake and exhaust valve timing so as to increase high-speed torque, which translates into better fuel economy). The V6 is a short-stroke variant of the engine that’s used in the Toyota 4Runner, Tacoma and Tundra trucks; its bore/stroke are 3.70 in./3.27 in. while the longer version has a 3.74-in. stroke. (This has led to an increase in the temperature of the pistons, which necessitates the use of oil cooling jets in the block to cool the underside of the pistons.)


Losers? Not.

“They don’t want to be seen as losers in cheap cars.” That’s Jim Farley, Toyota Motor Sales vp of Marketing, talking about the Yaris buyer, someone who is budget-minded but not interested in giving up on value. “In a segment that is perceived as mundane, Yaris has the opportunity to surprise.” The exterior designs for the hatch (theme: “Powerful Simplicity”) and the sedan (theme: “Simple is Cool”) are not particularly surprising. (Both have a coefficient of drag of 0.29.) The engineering is somewhat surprising, however. Like the right side upper engine mount for the 1.5-liter, 16-valve DOHC four is liquid filled, which is the first time this has been done on a Toyota. (The engine provides 106 hp@ 6,000 rpm and 103 lb-ft of torque @ 4,200 rpm. It features VVT-I, direct ignition, and electronic throttle control (a.k.a., “drive-by-wire.) The suspension setup features rigid L-arm MacPherson struts in the front and a torsion-beam rear suspension. This torsion beam is based on a hydroformed tube that is engineered so as to provide anti-roll stabilization without an additional anti-roll bar. On the inside of the hatchback people will find rear seats that recline up to 28°, certainly not standard for a car in this class.



Although the design theme for the RAV4 is “modern-rugged,” according to Ise, the exterior is more modern than it is rugged (the Toyota FJ Cruiser will crystallize the rugged approach). It is sleeker than the previous generation (the Cd is 0.33, from 0.35). There is a sharp though subtle character line that starts at about 2 o’clock on the front fender flare and moves up and back across the doors before being resolved in the tail lamps. On the inside, there are “Optitron” gauges which glow brightly from the center-mounted cluster (which, incidentally, doesn’t facilitate the configuring of the steering wheel to the left or right side as there are a whole lot of other structures and components involved in making the switch). The front door panels have what is accurately described as a “boomerang” design, encompassing the door pulls. There is a use of metallic accents on the interior so that it is more modernity than off-road ruggedness.

For all that, however, there are aspects that make this is robust vehicle (comparatively speaking, of course: after all, while the RAV4 isn’t based on a car platform per se, it is still a unibody vehicle, not a trail-crawler). There is an extensive use of high-strength steel to make the body rigid but light. There is anti-chipping primer used on the lower rocker area; urethane anti-chipping paint on the upper rocker; soft anti-chipping primer on the hood; anti-chipping tape on the rear doors and rocker area—all of which is to say that there is the potential for the vehicle to look good even if it sees something other than smooth pavement. There is a newly developed electronic on-demand four-wheel-drive system available. Although nominally a front-wheel-drive vehicle, based on either sensor detection and ECU activation or the driver putting the vehicle into 4WD LOCK via a switch, as much as 45% of the torque can be sent to the rear wheels.


Calculated Optimism.

Of the RAV4, Jim Lentz, group vice president and general manager, Toyota Division, says that they have a sales target of 135,000 units per year (in the U.S.). “That’s a 2006 calendar year sales projection increase of 100% over calendar 2005, with a market share gain of 4%, from 6.5% to 10.5%.” The RAV4 is built in the Toyota Tahara and Nagakusa plants. There is a plant under construction in Woodstock, Ontario, Canada, that is slated to go into production in ’08. The RAV4 is said to be among the vehicles to be produced there.

Of the Yaris sedan and hatch, Jim Farley explains that they’re projecting they’ll sell 50,000 units in 2006 and 70,000 units in 2007, the first full year of the Yaris in the U.S. market. Speaking of entry subcompacts, he says, “This is a segment that is expected to grow while the rest of the industry remains flat. Through 2007, the entry subcompact volume is expected to rise considerably, driven by the arrival of new product entries.” Clearly there is some optimism, given that through the third quarter of 2005, there were just 1,518 Echoes sold, which was down 52% to the same period a year earlier. It would take 46 months of 1,518 unit sales in order to reach 70,000. The Yaris is that much better than the Echo.