Toyota Europe’s manufacturing chief sees disruption as the ‘new normal’ for automakers

Europe

PRAGUE — Automakers will need to adjust their manufacturing strategies to account for a constant stream of disruptions affecting everything from supply chains to product distribution, Toyota Europe’s executive vice president for manufacturing, Marvin Cooke, said.

“We have been through an unprecedented period of challenges, and the previous normality is gone,” Cooke said as the closing speaker at Automotive News Europe’s annual congress in Prague.

“This is the new normal and you have to be prepared for disruption.”

Toyota’s strategy for managing production disruption rests on the twin pillars of transparency and visibility.

“We are able to see transparently through the supply chain, and develop relationships with the supply chain, and expect that transparency back regarding what is coming from their side,” he said.

While he predicts more stability in the years ahead as the semiconductor crisis resides, he admitted to the fragile nature of stability, pointing to the recent COVID-19 lockdowns in Shanghai that disrupted global production.

“We are not immune to the bumps in the supply chain,” Cooke said.

Looking to innovations in Industry 4.0 and digitalization, Cooke said Toyota is focused on how to improve visualization of real time management so production can react more quickly, spot patterns and move into predictive maintenance through wider deployment of sensors.

“There are big movements in production engineering, including using digital twins and simulation software, so we can spend less time in the physical world and reduce production lead time,” he said.

Cooke outlined the company’s plans for emissions reductions and moving to renewable energy sources to meet European emissions regulations in line with the EU’s Fit for 55 program, which involves working with the supply chain partners to make production carbon neutral by 2040.

He pointed out emissions from logistics are in fact greater than what Toyota emits from production factories.

“We can reduce the volume of the transportation required, by reducing the size of the packaging and optimizing routes,” he added. “

There is still a lot of road transport in parts and vehicle delivery, but we are starting trials on fuel cell trucks. There are many things to overcome, but we are on the way.”

When it comes to the vehicles themselves, Toyota’s strategy for achieving carbon neutrality is based on a multi-technology approach including full-electric vehicles, hydrogen fuel cells, and hybrids.

“One size in our opinion does not fit all—we are a multi-powertrain company,” he said. “We see the endpoint is the same, but the transition is going to be multi-technology.”

On the topic of hydrogen, Cooke called it a “credible solution” for passenger cars today, but more infrastructure and other enablers will be required to get it to scale.

He sees more heavy industry solutions to help hydrogen along, from rail and truck to maritime and replacing diesel generators.

“Fuel cells offer a lot of opportunity—we have a team producing fuel cells in Belgium,” he said.

“I do not see even by 2030 hydrogen passenger cars being a high-volume business, we see it supporting other industries that need de-carbonizing. Hydrogen is one of the key technologies for de-carbonizing society.”

Using the Toyota Production System–the heart of how the company does business—as a starting point, Cooke said when he looks at innovation and where it comes from, it stems from the company’s employees.

“We do not just say we pay people to work, we pay people to think,” he said. “We are all investing in new technology, but how can we continuously engage all our team members to improve their work? They know better than anyone what works well.”

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