Toyota Opens Mich. Design Center

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Toyota Motor Co., in an effort to insure the full-size pickup truck it plans to introduce in 2006 has an all-American appeal, has decided it will be designed at the company’s new design studio outside of Ann Arbor, Mich.

Kevin Hunter, vice president of Calty Design Research Inc., Toyota’s in-house design firm in North America, said Calty’s new Ann Arbor studio will have the primary design responsibility for full-size pickups that will be built in the new assembly plant Toyota is building in San Antonio, Texas.

Hideichi Misono, senior general manager to Toyota Design Center, said the truck project will be a watershed for Toyota. “This will be the first time that mass production design has been handled outside of Toyota’s headquarters in Japan," noted Misono, who has said he wants to elevate the status of the Japanese company’s designs and designers.

“The entire Toyota design staff, which includes 1400 people working in centers across Japan, the United States, Europe, and Asia, are passionately pursuing their brand design work based on our design philosophy of Toyota and Lexus brands — vibrant clarity and finesse.

Misono added promoting design development of mass production vehicles at the local level is an important objective for Toyota. “We are encouraging this policy not only in the United States but in the Europe, Asia, and Pacific regions as well,” he added. “However, among these regions, Calty Ann Arbor will be leading the way,” added Misono, who indicated he had great expectations for the new studio.

“I believe that gathering together designers from different cultural backgrounds and having them compete and cooperate, sparks creativity on both sides, and leads to original design proposals,” Misono said. “We believe that a new development culture will be born by founding a design studio here, at the heart of the automobile industry,” he added.

Hunter said the Ann Arbor studio will enable Calty to provide a complete design workup from initial styling concept to final production design. “We are excited about this new addition because it will allow us to develop complete vehicle production design in America for the first time ever,” he said.

“The result will be a highly unified national design effort that will help us create Toyota, Lexus, and Scion vehicles that appeal even more to American tastes and needs,” Hunter said. “Creativity is the bedrock for all our activity. Our designers study trends and lifestyles of American consumers and use that information to develop future vehicles,” he added.

The road ahead

The studio is taking on a huge task. For all of its success in North America over the last 30 years, Toyota’s efforts to crack the North American truck market have fallen short, largely because of the loyalty of American truck to vehicles carrying the Ford, Chevrolet, and Dodge emblems.

The new studio is starting life with a staff of five designers. However, the staff is expected to grow to a dozen designers, according to Robert McMahan, project chief designer, who was a designer at the Chrysler Group in Auburn Hills before joining Toyota four months ago. McMahan had spent more than a decade at Chrysler, and in his last assignment before joining Toyota he had worked on Chrysler’s new rear-wheel-drive passenger cars. Toyota’s top management has given the Ann Arbor design center all kinds of support, including the very latest equipment and a bright new studio, too.

David Cole, director of the Center for Automotive Studies in Ann Arbor, said Toyota had spent a lot of time and effort in the development of the new studio, observing, “You can tell that [they] wanted to do it right.” Overall, Toyota spent approximately $14 million on the new design studio, which is a short distance from the 106-acre Toyota Technical Center.

The Toyota Technical Center in Ann Arbor originally opened in 1990 and now has more than 500 employees and also is responsible for other research centers in California, Arizona, and Massachusetts. The TTC is responsible for engineering design, prototype development, and vehicle evaluation for several vehicles include the Camry and the Avalon, Sienna, and Solara, Toyota officials said.

The opening of the Toyota studio also shores up the Detroit area’s position as a center for automotive design, which has diminished in the past decade as automakers have opened new advanced studios in Southern California. Nissan also has opened a design studio at its technical center in the Detroit suburb of Farmington Hills.

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