Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Building Appeal into Wheeled 'Appliance' ; Toyota Tries to Reinvent Itself with a Bolder Approach to Auto Design

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Building Appeal into Wheeled 'Appliance' ; Toyota Tries to Reinvent Itself with a Bolder Approach to Auto Design

Article excerpt

The company said it was overhauling its development system to give engineers more freedom to experiment with bolder, more daring looks.

After decades of emphasizing staid reliability, Toyota wants to start running with the cool kids.

In a new approach announced Monday, the company, the biggest Japanese automaker, said it was overhauling its development system to give engineers more freedom to experiment with bolder, more daring designs.

"We want to take more risks," Akio Toyoda, the automaker's chief executive and grandson of the company's founder, told reporters at the main design lab at headquarters in Toyota City, southwest of Tokyo.

The company will give more power to its engineers, Mr. Toyoda said, and streamline design decisions, partly by reducing the number of executives involved in reviewing new designs. Previously, design changes could be reviewed by as many as 100 executives.

But the engineers will be under pressure to cut costs by using standard parts in various models, Mr. Toyoda said at a briefing at the tightly guarded lab, where reporters' cellphones and cameras were confiscated.

Toyota will also cede more research and development for emerging- economy nations to locally based teams, allowing designers to shape models specifically to local tastes, he said.

In many ways, Toyota is eager to reinvent itself after three disastrous years marred by problems, some of its own making and some beyond its control. A collapse in trade during the global economic crisis contributed to Toyota's biggest loss ever, while widespread product recalls in 2009 tarnished its once-stellar safety record.

More recently, the tsunami last year in Japan and flooding in Thailand crimped production for months. And a strong yen continues to weigh on Toyota's competitiveness and profit.

But the 75-year-old company is also trying to refresh a design philosophy that has focused more on function, cost and efficiency than form. …

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