How Toyota Changed The World
Not only can Toyota lay claim to being the biggest car manufacturer in the world, it also holds the cherished distinctions of being one of the most innovative and profitable.
Several of its innovations have gone on to be adapted and refined by other manufacturers, with often dramatic results, but the Japanese industrial giant has always striven to stay at least one step ahead of its competitors.
Here, we present seven ways in which Toyota can claim to have instigated major change, not just in the motor industry, but beyond.
The Toyota Production System, featuring Jidoka and Just-In-Time
With a prime aim of cutting waste, this aims to make every process as efficient as possible. Jidoka, or ‘automation with a human touch’, means that, if any production line worker spots a fault on a vehicle, they can halt the entire line and rectify the problem before things are re-started. Just-In-Time is a model of parts distribution which aims to ensure that the right parts, in the right quantity, are delivered to the line exactly when needed.
Toyota claims that not only have these techniques been adopted elsewhere in the automotive industry, but they are also widely used in large organisations such as the NHS. As well as helping big firms and organisations boost productivity and cut waste, the principles have also been found, most importantly, to keep workers safer.
Just-In-Time is a widely-used principle throughout the car industry, where due to high costs, it is unfeasible for too many cars to be produced at once, so strict control is needed over inventory levels. Toyota began using a JIT system in the 1970s, and to this day continues to review and refine its processes. This is because several elements of the process - including steady production, high-quality workmanship, no machine breakdowns at the plant, reliable suppliers and quick ways to assemble machines that put together vehicles - all need to be ensured for JIT to work in practice.
This problem-solving strategy was the brainchild of the father of Toyota’s founder, Sakichi Toyoda. He believed that if you ask ‘why’ enough times, you can separate the symptoms of a problem from its causes, so helping get to the root cause of any issue and deal with it.
Out of this has arisen Toyota’s quest for continuous improvement in everything it does.
The topic has even been seized upon by countless self-help experts as a basis for their work in helping people understand and get to grips with difficulties in their own lives. When a founding principle of your business becomes such a widely-followed belief in society as a whole, then you know you must be on to something.
If you use the internet via a smartphone or other portable device, you’ll probably know all about these. These are the equivalents of barcodes which can be scanned by a smartphone, and contain code which takes the device through to a specific website or page.
The code comprises 40 different sizes of black and white dots, and essentialy, says Createqrcodes.org “the consumer spends more time on the company's page and is more likely to make a purchase or sign up for something, or interact with the company or person in some way than someone who saw a URL or a catchphrase in an ad.”
As a tool for online selling and raising general awareness of a subject, they’re often maligned. But according to Fortune.com, QR Codes are making a definite comeback, thanks to Snapchat’s in-built camera being able to recognise and scan them.
Hybrid engine technology
Or, to give it Toyota’s full, official title, Hybrid Synergy Drive. This provides the power for the world’s most successful hybrid petrol-electric power system, and, in turn, brought the world the Toyota Prius. First seen in 1997 (can you really believe it was that long ago?), the Prius has gone on to enable many people to make any journey quietly and efficiently, while greatly reducing their carbon footprint.
With a completely revised Prius having gone on sale in 2016, the car has a completely new look, and even surprised a few cynical motoring hacks with the quality of its ride and handling, among them CAR magazine’s Chris Chiton, who said: You’ll be amazed at the body control and steering that’s not only pleasingly accurate, but almost a whole turn quicker between the lockstops.”
Hybrid Synergy Drive is more than just a name for Toyota’s engine technology on the Prius, the company says - it also described what the engine does, in creating synergy between two separate power sources, so that they can work either independently or in harmony.
At the time of writing, a small Prius fleet had just completed a test programme of more than 1,300 miles of commuting into and out of the Italian capital, Rome. Data gathered from those commuting journeys showed that the test Prius cars spent an average 73.2 per cent of the journey time (62.5 per cent of the journey distance) producing no tailpipe emissions.
From a timing belt in a 1993 Toyota Camry to recognition as an influential player in driving forward research into the development of stronger, lighter new materials for a range of car parts, Toyota’s journey at the forefront of nanotechnology development has been a long one.
Nanotechnology concerns items between one and 100 nanometres in size (a nanometre is about one-third the size of a household flea - again, thanks to Nanofolio.org for the fascinating fact).
Because nanotechnology is concerned with materials at their smallest possible scale, it can be used as a basis for production of new generations of materials for use in the manufacture of many products, not least cars.
And because the weight of a car has a great bearing on its efficiency, these lighter materials bring with them the prospect of nanomaterials being able to play a big part in creating a new generation of ultra-light, and therefore much more economical, vehicles.
Fuel cell technology
The Toyota Mirai is probably the most dramatic and impressive manifestation yet of a possible future for the automotive sector that’s less harmful to the planet.
Fuel cells generate electricity through some form of chemical reaction. Hydrogen is the basic chemical involved, but oxygen is also required to provide power - the major benefit of using these two being that the main by-product from mixing these two elements is harmless: it’s water.
Many cells are needed to develop enough power to drive a car, so the Mirai combines fuel cell with hybrid technology to produce enough to get it moving. The big bonus is that it’s a zero-emissions car, while filling with hydrogen takes not much longer than filling the tank of a conventional petrol or diesel car. And while much of the equipment by which the Mirai is propelled is heavier than in most other cars, Toyota says it has ensured that it handles as well as possible by putting this extra weight under the middle of the car.
With NASA having used hydrogen power to launch many of its rockets into space, there are few worries that a system cannot be developed which provides enough power to keep a car moving along in a typical traffic stream. The Mirai has a typical range of about 300 miles (about 500km), so while that’s a little less than most petrol or diesel cars, it’s still a much cleaner way of driving.
The last entrant on our list comes right out of left-field, but is nevertheless one which has brought much enjoyment to motoring in recent years.
Drifting is a driving technique whereby the driver creates enough oversteer to be able to manoeuvre a car through a bend while keeping it moving sideways. Demanding precise levels of control - and nerves of steel - from the driver, its fans reckon it’s great fun to watch, while drivers must stay alert to the behaviour of their car so as to be able to respond to its tendency to take control from them.
Kelichi Tsuchiya of Japan is recognised as the world’s ‘drift king’, and is credited with having popularised the style - and he did it while driving a Toyota GT86, which reviewers have called one of the best rear-wheel drive cars in the world. Such cars were once common, but for reasons of safety, the format has only been persisted with by a select few manufacturers.
Drifting may have been in danger of dying out with the advent of all the electronic control gizmos on most modern cars, which aim to eliminate the very behaviour in a car which makes for good drifting.
But the fact that it’s developing into a major sub-culture - and Toyota, with its strong line-up of rear-wheel drive cars has been at the forefront of it - shows how even the world’s biggest car company can make a mark in the most unexpected places.
As the biggest car-maker in the world, Toyota clearly has changed lots of people’s worlds. Why not find out how a new Toyota could change yours, by visiting Lindoptoyota.co.uk, and taking a look at the current range?