When Tokuo Fukuichi was brought back to Toyota Motor Corp to become head of design, he was given a simple directive from President Akio Toyoda: make Toyota cars simple and cool. He took a risk and objected.
“I said, look, Mr. President, just cool is not good enough,” Fukuichi told Reuters. “Toyota had already tried hard to fix ugly parts and make them look better. What Toyota lacks the most is character.”
Fukuichi, 61, knows something about character. In the late 1980s, he designed the first generation Previa, also known as the “egg-van” — one of the most love-it-or-hate-it Toyota vehicles ever.
For Toyoda, who has criticised his company for losing sight of the fun and excitement of the automobile and has tried to shake up its stodgy and engineer-dominated design process, Fukuichi brought the right kind of edginess to the job. In a rare move, he asked Fukuichi to rejoin Toyota in 2011 after he had left for group company Kanto Auto Works.
Toyota roared back to a hefty profit in the first quarter and said on Friday that it intended to build a record-breaking 9.76 million cars this year, leading a recovery by Japanese automakers after a year of natural disasters and a punishingly strong currency.
Though the strong yen continues to weigh on the bottom lines of Japanese exporters, many other things are going right for Japanese automakers. Supply chains that were severed are now up and running, and manufacturers like Toyota and Honda, racing to meet pent-up demand, are fast regaining lost ground in profitable markets like the United States. Japanese government incentives on fuel-efficient cars have revived markets at home.
Toyota Motor Corp. and BMW AG will expand their alliance on so-called eco-friendly cars, with the Japanese automaker providing its hybrid and fuel-cell technologies to the German partner in exchange for technologies that reduce vehicle weight, Toyota sources said Monday.
By sharing their technologies in the promising field, the two major carmakers aim to enhance their global competitiveness and cut development costs, the sources said, adding that they are expected to formalize and announce the accord soon.
Toyota, which plans to launch a fuel-cell car around 2015, has never offered its “green car” expertise to a rival before, but previously joined hands on hybrid technology with Ford Motor Co. and Mazda Motor Corp.
The strong yen is forcing Toyota Motor and Nissan Motor to consider changes in production plans and alliance strategies, the top executives of both Japanese automakers said Thursday.
The yen, which hit a record high against the dollar in late October, has undercut profits for Toyota and Nissan, which both build vehicles in Japan for overseas markets.
To offset the strong yen, Toyota may “deepen alliances” with suppliers and dealers, Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota, said during the opening of a Toyota plant in Mississippi that will build Corolla cars now being manufactured in Japan.
Toyota Motor Corp., Asia’s biggest carmaker, may expand production outside Japan as the yen’s gains on currency markets reduce earnings.“We are struggling,” Chief Financial Officer Satoshi Ozawa said today in an interview at the automaker’s factory in Ovar, Portugal. “We are facing a difficult time. We have to reduce our production costs to compensate for the currency situation,” and that may involve shifting manufacturing from the home market of Japan “to some extent.”The euro’s decline since April to a decade low against the yen this month is reducing export earnings at the Toyota City, Japan-based carmaker and competitors.
Japan’s domestic sales of new cars, trucks and buses saw their first rise in 13 months in September, reflecting the industry’s rebound from the huge disruption sparked by Japan’s quake and tsunami.
Sales in September grew 1.7 percent from a year earlier to 313,790 vehicles, the Japan Automobile Dealers Association said Monday.
The figures do not include sales of mini vehicles — which have an engine capacity of 660 cc or less — and reflect a low basis of comparison from the same period a year earlier, when state subsidies for the purchase of environmentally friendly vehicles ended.
Toyota Motor Corp. said it is investigating after China said some of its models were made with broken or malfunctioning parts that caused accidents.
The Aug. 29 statement from the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said malfunctioning brakes and broken drive shafts led to accidents that "caused many casualties" in the first half of the year.
The agency didn’t seek a recall and didn’t give details about the accidents it was referring to.
Toyota Motor Co may slip to No. 3 in the automaker production rankings behind General Motors and Volkswagen due to Japan’s earthquake and nuclear crisis, which slashed local output by almost two-thirds in March alone.
A shortage of parts in the wake of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami has savaged Japan’s auto sector supply chain, while damage to a major nuclear plant has disrupted power supplies.
Investors expecting overseas rivals to benefit from a prolonged slump in Japanese output pushed up shares in South Korea’s Hyundai Motors and associate Kia Motors to record highs on Monday.
Nissan Motor said on Sunday that it planned to restart production this week at five of its six Japanese plants that have been idled since an earthquake and tsunami pummeled the country on March 11. The announcement was among a handful of encouraging signs for Japan’s economy, the world’s third largest, which has been staggered by the natural disasters and the subsequent crisis the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.
The Sony Corporation, Japan’s largest exporter of consumer electronics, said Sunday that it was preparing in days to reopen a plant that makes rechargeable batteries in Northern Japan.
Honda and Toyota have said that they are ramping up production at factories across Japan, moves likely to ease the shortages of parts and supplies that have disrupted automakers worldwide.