If you want to read about innovation, check out the NYT’s magazine story on Toyota. It goes deep into the Japanese company’s process to show that it isn’t just about just quality anymore but about constant creativity in things small and large. The section on how
a small team went out to observe how different kinds of people used trucks in different ways to prepare for the developmentof the new Tundra is great. Toyota is aiming the Tundra at five groups of truck users—outdoors hunters and fishermen and women, home improvement types, NASCAR fans (hence Toyota’s entry this year in a controversial move), motorcycle enthusiasts and country-music listeners. And digging through scrapeyards to see which parts of of rusting pickups lasted over the years—great too. And the investment and bet on the prius is a case study in itself.
The most important thing to remember is that Toyota has a way of thinking. It’s not just a series of processes or incentives or targets. It’s a philosophy, a way of looking at life.
I do object to one thing in the article—it’s too gushy. Toyota has had its problems and this past year or two quality fell sharply as the company ramped up production. But it jumped on the problem and is resolving it.
But how can you hate a company that talks about talking the carbon out of cars—of building cars that help, not hurt the atmosphere? Yes, it still makes most of its money with gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs. But it is moving fast to replace all its engines with hybrids. And, according to the NYT piece, it already can accomodate bigger battery capacities for a plug-in hybrid, so you would use gas only on long trips-once such a battery is created. Toyota designers now have to consider that total amount of CO2 generated in design, manufacture and lifetime use of a vehicle.
I’ll stop here. Message to Detroit: it’s not about talking about innovation. It’s not even about new technologies. It’s about building a new culture along with new cars. Britain pretty much lost its auto industry because it couldn’t adapt. This is the last chance.
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