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The Kaizen Colossus

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A first look at the new Vios and thoughts on a rare visit inside a Toyota factory

An hour’s drive from Metro Manila, a pristine and superbly laid out manufacturing plant grinds out cars at an astonishing rate.

This is Toyota’s special economic zone in Santa Rosa, Laguna. It’s low- key and tranquil. More college campus than the industrial sprawl of Dearborn’s Rouge Station.

As the world’s biggest automaker, thanks to its business model and sheer size (sold globally, present in six continents and almost 30 countries), Toyota had dibs on the 82-hectare site after partnering with local tycoon George S.K. Ty 25 years ago. Inside, there is no traffic, no litter, no high- rises, and many, many trees. According to one employee, there are also dorms and recreational facilities plus an upcoming vocational school.

As a trillion yen multinational business, Toyota is one of the largest corporate behemoths in existence. The past few years have been turbulent ones for the automaker, which employs 330,000 and supports several millions more, as current CEO Akio Toyoda admitted during a glowing financial announcement in May. “Have we really turned into a company which can be profitable and is able to grow no matter what happens in its business environment? I’m not sure yet,” he said.

“I would like to seriously examine true competitiveness,” Toyoda added, several months after Toyota’s brand was embattled in China during a vitriolic political row. “Namely competitiveness to enable sustainable growth regardless of the business environment.”

On a particularly hot and sun- drenched morning, hundreds were assembled at Toyota’s Activity Center, a covered court that hosted the official unveiling for the third-generation Vios.

The Vios, which is now 10 years old, became a legend for its affordability and a level of style that most subcompacts aspired to. True to its Toyota DNA, it was also reliable as hell.

Want to know a shocking secret?

The 3G Vios was teased as far back as three months ago during the annual Bangkok International Motor Show in a debut that launched an eclectic interpretative dance ensemble. Amid the electro-pop chaos and queer choreography, a glittering cheery-red Vios was exposed underneath a white silken sheet. The Vios unveiled was a real beaut, with its improved specs and creamy plus interior furnishing.

When finally rolled out in the Philippines the Vios was drenched in wine by executives and VIPs, Japanese and Filipino, who were invited. Cameramen flocked to the podium for their shots, as thunderous film score and applause from seated workers filled the air.

The all-new 3G Vios, a huge pan-Asian bestseller during its previous incarnations, came in orange and smooth contours but will sport different finishes once it reaches local dealerships.

Pursuing Efficiency
The most vital factoid one should keep in mind about Toyota is how regimented their entire system is. Some prefer to call it by an inspiring term for continuous improvement—the mythical kaizen.

Or, as explained by a petite female tour guide to her eager guests, a process where every movement and every action has been improved to the point of total efficiency. She should know. Although currently in the PR-arm of Toyota, she underwent a 15-hour course to learn what’s done on the production line. It was exhausting, she admits.

Kaizen is a combination dreamed up by a certain Taiichi Ohno back in the 1950s. He advocated bringing together supermarket inventory and assembly line speed.

The goal was cost-cutting, waste- cutting, and time-cutting. The results made Toyota a world-beater.

Do you know what catches the eye the moment you step inside a Toyota car plant?

The neat zebra stripes, like mini pedestrian crossings, laid out along walkways partitioned into measured paths. The cars are built no more than ten minutes at a time. The parts are always at hand and precisely delivered to the model where they’re needed. Sections are assembled, checked, assembled, checked, then tested, tested, and tested.

There’s even a weather simulator where a newly finished model is drenched in typhoon rain. The same model is then driven to a garage covered in fluorescent bulbs that reveal scratches on its surface. Toyota sure knows how to impress.

Print ed: 08/13


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