It is a model engineered in America, built in Kentucky and and sold only in America. With its avant garde styling, it is Marin Luther nailing his 95 theses to Toyota’s Cathedral door. Toyota has increased its investment into this facility in order to better compete in a market where the rising yen eats away at profits on Japanese-made vehicles.
While the Toyota Technical Center has yet to start developing its own engines, that project will begin before the year is over. The Ann Arbor facility has put a tremendous quantity of r&d into the new Avalon and they have done testing and development work that until now has always been done in Japan for Toyotas.
“Our competition has gotten very tough. To respond to the local needs of the North American market, being closer is better. That is the key to success,” said Seiya Nakao, president of the Toyota Technical Center. He took the position in May 2011 amidst the fallout of Toyota’s massive recalls. It was suddenly very obvious that Toyota’s Headquarters was cut off and remote from the US market. The automaker decided to give more control of vehicle development to this American facility to solve this issue and hedge profits against the rising Japanese Yen.
Randy Stephens is one of the first non-Japanese chief engineers Toyota has ever used. The 2013 Avalon is his baby and the aggressive-for-its-class styling is something he pushed for. The drivetrain was developed in Japan as it is shared with the Camry. In the project’s first year he was flying to Japan once a month for meetings. “When you’re the chief engineer with the white badge, they sit you at the middle of the table and the engineers naturally line up around you.” All the meetings were conducted in English for him without the use of translators. Toyota knows the importance of the American market.
The Toyota Technical Center first opened in 1977 to make sure new Toyotas met America’s rapidly changing emissions laws. In May, Toyota opened up an electromagnetic interference chamber in the US. This is its first outside of Japan. Until this chamber was opened, anything that was going to touch the electronics had to be sent to Japan for testing to see if it interfered with the wiring. This took months , but now it can be done instantly.
Toyota is also hiring over 100 engineers in the next five years for its engine development program. One of the first projects up is a new V8 that will even be featured in the flagship Land Cruiser. The Land Cruiser is the most expensive Toyota badged vehicle on the market with the new 2013 model carrying an MSRP of $77,955.
Mike Sweers is one of the new American Chief Engineers. He is overseeing the Tundra and Tacoma pickup trucks. Greg Bernas is yet another Chief Engineer who was born in the USA. He is in charge of the next Venza crossover. Like Sweers and Stephens he was educated at a university in Michigan. Their projects are expected to be on the market by 2014 and 2015.
They are however only working on projects where sales are confined to North America. Global vehicles will continue to be developed in Japan.