October 10, 2006 10:13 AM PDT

Inside Toyota's hybrid factory

Related Stories

Study: BP, Toyota top green energy, auto brands

July 7, 2006

Hacking your Prius

May 22, 2006
TOYOTA CITY, Japan--While you're touring the assembly area in Toyota's Tsutsumi auto plant, your mind keeps telling you that you've been here before.

Then it hits you. It's a lot like the Snow White ride at Disneyland.

Robotic cars filled up with wiper blades and other parts amble along a track in the floor, taking parts from the procurement department to other ends of the factory. So that workers don't back into them, the robots emit an upbeat four-note ditty as they burble about. Overhead, chairlifts that look like they came from Disneyland's PeopleMover bring doors from one side of the factory, where they get removed from their cars, to another, where they get reunited with their parents after getting fitted with handles and interior panels.

The growth of Prius
Sales of Toyota's hybrid car have taken off in the past few years.
Year Prius shipped
1997 323*
1998 17,653
1999 15,243
2000 19,011
2001 29,452
2002 28,083
2003 43,162
2004 125,742
2005 175,157
* In 1997, Prius came out toward the end of the year.
Accumulated hybrid sales from 1997 through July 2006:
All hybrids: 720,516
Prius: 552,657
(Prius accounts for 76.7 percent of all hybrid sales to date.)
Source: Toyota

Nearly finished Priuses, Camrys and Premios (a Japan-only car) progress on automated floor belts through the final inspection area, where workers look for paint scratches and check the lights. Elevators, conveyors and other machinery seem to be shuttling metal everywhere, but nothing moves faster than your grandmother's walking speed.

Then there is the andon cord, a draping white cord that hangs overhead on both sides of every production line. When a worker sees a problem, he pulls the cord, which immediately stops his particular production line. In a U.S. factory, stopping production would be discouraged and would likely be accompanied by a loud, shrill alarm.

Not here. An andon cord gets pulled every few minutes somewhere in the factory. And, instead of an alarm, a cheery song plays.

"Each (production) line has different music. Sometimes you hear 'Happy Birthday,'" said Mika Kumazawa, who served as a guide during a visit to the factory.

The almost complete lack of anxiety around stopping production with the andon cord--which has been the subject of several papers at MBA programs in the U.S.--has huge advantages. Only about 15 to 20 minutes of a full nine-hour shift arelost, and the defect rate on finished cars is close to zero, Toyota says. Most problems that I observed were solved within 10 seconds or less.

Toyota rides high these days. The company saw car shipments increase by 25 percent in the U.S. in September, at a time when other major manufacturers--from both the U.S. and Japan--reported declines. Analysts believe that the company, ranked second now, will surpass GM in the next few years to become the world's largest car company although it could face problems with quality and customer satisfaction as it grows.

Toyota accounts for 43 percent of car sales in Japan, excluding the minicar market, and 16.5 percent in the U.S.

Push from Prius
A lot of the credit goes to the Prius, one of several car models that come out of the Tsutsumi plant. The concept of a hybrid car that runs on an electric motor and a gasoline motor goes back about 100 years, said Yusei Higaki, a product manager in the global external affairs division at Toyota. (Related story: Toyota branches out into ethanol.)

"The problem is that there was always a trade-off between performance and efficiency," he said.

Fueling Toyota's future

The first version of the Prius, introduced in 1997, suffered from the same trade-off, he acknowledged. But in 2003, the company substantially revised the design of the hybrid system so that the onboard computer could more readily switch between the electric motor (for accelerating) and the gas engine (for cruising speeds). As a result, the vehicle got good mileage and performed like a regular car.

The timing couldn't have been better. Gas prices began to climb and celebrities such as Cameron Diaz and Leonardo DiCaprio turned the Prius into a status symbol. The status symbolism surprised Toyota, Higaki said. Toyota had not invested much energy or time, at that point, in marketing the car, he said.

Sales climbed. They jumped from 28,083 in 2002 to 43,162 in 2003, and hit 175,157 last year. Toyota's goal is to reach 1 million in annual hybrid sales in the first few years of the next decade.

"The market is accelerating. Hybrid shipments from all manufacturers may hit to 400,000 this year," Higaki said, adding that Prius will account for most hybrids shipped.

Manufacturing, plays a significant role too, though, and runs deep in Toyota's blood. The company likes to emphasize that it spends its energy on car design and factory efficiency rather than quarterly profit trends. Tsutsumi, which covers about 1 million square meters, is actually only one of 10 plants the company has here in Toyota City, an industrial town in the Aichi prefecture.

Newly hired engineers and university graduates spend their first two months at the company on the factory floor and the next three months at a dealer. (Higaki found himself on an assembly line for a rack-and-pinion steering part and, for his sales training, went door-to-door extolling the company's cars to potential consumers in Japan.)

CONTINUED: Assembly innovations…
Page 1 | 2

See more CNET content tagged:
Toyota Prius, Toyota, factory, hybrid car, Japan


Join the conversation!
Add your comment
Got my Prius last Friday
I love this car. In all likelihood I will never purchase another American "brand" (Not made.) car ever again.
Posted by Jonathan (832 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Repressed Sales
Any time that I see hybrid sales figures I'm constantly reminded of one thing: Toyota and Honda are selling as many of the Prius and Civic hybrids that they want to sell -- and no more.

Talk about constrained supply! I believe that I'm no different than anyone else: I want to test drive before I purchase.

Can you imagine how many of these vehicles they's sell if they could actually get them to a sales lot? In Texas (I've really only researched Austin, Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston), Priuses are on 6-month waiting lists.

Like I said, Toyota sells as many as they desire to sell.
Posted by richard petty--2008 (14 comments )
Link Flag
well you're special
do you drive it like you own the road, as do all the other prius
Posted by youngm7 (7 comments )
Link Flag
You backed up your idea with money, now thats the American Way. Your'e doing S.U.V owners a big favour, they will get to use up the fuel you save thus living their own American Dream for longer. I would have thought you should be the object of their
gratitude, not scorn.
Posted by m.o.t.u. (96 comments )
Link Flag
Better get your Prius while you can. Toyota's hybrid synergy drive is infringing on a patent and the patent owner has filed to have Toyota barred from importing hybrid vehicles. See <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://info.usitc.gov/ouii/public/337inv.nsf/34ee115c5a9962e28525656a00601452/f51c0bec2eff35ba8525710f00707914?OpenDocument" target="_newWindow">http://info.usitc.gov/ouii/public/337inv.nsf/34ee115c5a9962e28525656a00601452/f51c0bec2eff35ba8525710f00707914?OpenDocument</a>
Posted by solrosenberg (124 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I wonder why you're doing this.
Interesting. If you follow the link, you'll find the disposition of the complaint is "No violation found".
Posted by TomClement (7 comments )
Link Flag
Hybrid should be standard tech in all cars and trucks
Its just make so much sense to conserve energy which otherwise goes waste as heat. Checkout things that affect car mileage at <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.innerdep.com/navigate.jsp?searchstr=Car%20Mileage" target="_newWindow">http://www.innerdep.com/navigate.jsp?searchstr=Car%20Mileage</a>

But, I fear now that the falling gas price would again make these hybrid less attractive.

Toyota Prius also is very aero dynamically efficient with low drag design.
Posted by dfmrrd (10 comments )
Reply Link Flag
No - Hybrids ARE NOT the most FUEL EFFICIENT Vehicles
Hybrid vehicles are NOT about fuel efficiency, they are about reducing emissions while keeping consumers happy with the kind of horsepower they are used to

If people were really concerned about reducing fuel consumption, they would drive cars like the (no longer in production) Chevy Sprint (or Suzuki/Geo Swift). It got 44-49mpg (~20 YEARS AGO). It was a purely 48HP ICE. The EPA rating on the 1988 Sprint was 55mpg city/ 60mpg highway.

If Americans really want to reduce consumption, then they should drive cars with 40-60hp engines. The only reason hybrids exist, is because we want the peppy acceleration (yeah, we all want to be racecar drivers) and couldn't bear a car with a 0-60 time of 15-20 seconds.
Posted by zboot (168 comments )
Link Flag
You are crazy
The gas mileage the Prius gets has more to do with being a tiny little aerodynamic car than it does with being hybrid.

Buying something like a Hummer and then throwing in an extra $10,000 to add a hybrid drive train is a little bit like buying a private jet to take you to Paris so you don't have to pay extra to hear the in flight movie.

The hybrids seem to fair much better on the EPA estimate tests as compated to standard gas cars, but real world results are not as exagerated.

The reality is the $11,000 (34/40 MPG) Yaris isn't as far behind the $23,000 (60/51) Prius as the EPA estimates would have you believe.

The cars are actually pretty comparable in size and features and the reality is that you will never drive enough miles to actually see the $12,000 sticker price manifest into gas savings.

The reason you buy the Prius is not for gas savings though, it is so you can get a hybrid badge to remind the rest of the world that you are better than we are.

I am sorry I took time away from your tree planting ans stuff for you to read this, but don't worry. You should be able to make up for it tomorrow as you drive past me from the carpool lane.

I think the government should give hybrid people stickers so they can sit at the front of busses and cut to the front of lines too. You people are on a mission and I wouldn't want my reasoning and logic to get in your way.
Posted by Dachi (797 comments )
Link Flag
People do not realize that gas, in a free market, does not suddenly run out
Gas does not suddenly, in a free market run out. Prices today reflect expectations of the available supply and demand for goods and services today and tomorrow. If, for instance, the expectation is that oil supply will decrease or will be less than demand in ten years time, it will influence oil prices today. Prices today will go up. People will have the incentive to conserve (demand will decrease) and to develop new alternatives. Actually, we are probably conserving too much, because of OPEC and Governments taxations are keeping prices higher than they otherwise would be. That oil soon runs out is a political slogan that keeps coming up to keep politicians busy. This political slogan sounds true and will, therefore, in the political market sell. Only true markets can handle this sort of complex things. Compared to markets, Governments are too simple minded and primitive, because of the fact; they lack the essential tools that are needed to solve these kind of problems. They primitively, for example, regulate car manufacturers (and in the end consumers) to produce cars which improve gas mileage and impose upon people speed limits, without knowing if these actions are good or bad. Only markets can tell if conservations are good or bad, because market prices gives people the necessary signals of supply and demand, and people can therefore compare these prices to their own values if they are profitable or not to realize. The essential tools that are needed (which Governments are always lacking) are, as mentioned, market forces and the market price mechanism. Without these mechanisms nothing can be done. For example, a scientist will not reach the truth in trying to calculate physical available quantities and compare that to what he expects physical demand will be. It is silly, it is static and mechanistic. Every individual and every business around the whole world, with all the different knowledge, all the time, and in all possible situations, and which are directly influenced of higher prices, will conserve and try out alternatives. Even people and businesses that are not directly influenced of higher oil prices, also, have incentives to find out alternatives. These things happen all the time with all goods, services, capital and raw materials, and it run smoothly without us even noticing it. If Governments were going to replace the markets, we would probably end up with no available goods and services at all! In a sense, this would solve the conservation problem (joke). To make an example of this lack of knowledge and the belief that you can ignore markets, look at the so called Club of Rome, a group that made fools of themselves in the 70s with their book
Limits to growth (<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.answers.com/the+club+of+rome?gwp=11&#38;ver=;method=3" target="_newWindow">http://www.answers.com/the+club+of+rome?gwp=11&#38;ver=;method=3</a>). If they were right, we would probably barely, even, live today!

Björn Lundahl
Göteborg Sweden
Posted by Björn Lundahl (253 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Naturally, these hybrid cars are an example of those savings.
Every individual and every business around the whole world, with all the different knowledge, all the time, and in all possible situations, and which are directly influenced of higher prices, will conserve and try out alternatives.

Björn Lundahl
Göteborg, Sweden
Posted by Björn Lundahl (253 comments )
Link Flag
The "Market" is not magic
The "free market" may sometimes do a better job of regulating than government, but it is not perfect - it sometimes experiences wild speculative bubbles, such as the Dutch tulip mania that caused people to pay fortunes for a tulip bulb. It is subject to irrational fads and rumours.

The market isn't magic - it cannot create something out of nothing, it cannot make a supply when none exists. As much as you may wish otherwise, it cannot "make" any new fossil fuels.
Posted by albizzia (103 comments )
Link Flag
I'm sorry but
The body style of every hybrid I've seen is ugly except for the new Camry. And even it's pushing it.

Body style means a lot to me as a customer. It doesn't have to stand out, but it does have to be somewhat attractive to my eye. I can't drive a box like that Scion or whatever it's called, and I can't drive some little hatchback like the Prius. I need something with more bite, like maybe a Sebring Hybrid...
Posted by ReVeLaTeD (755 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hybrid cars
Dog a little research,back in the 50's in a Popular Mechanics mag an article on the "Wedge" Bui;t on a metal frame. 5 hp. gas engine,2 aircraft starters on rear drive wheels,one front wheel,wooden body,pie shaped(side view) got 50 to 60 mpg. Big battery bank nder center of car. Very effecient.
Posted by penso (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hybrid car
Sorry about the "Typo" in previous message. "Doing". When will Toyota start using the "Pogue" or Fisher" carbs that came out in the 50's. 200 mpg. Or the "Bourke" engine?? 2 Moving parts-25 or 50 mpg depending on cam setting. Rebuild in an hour. Plus there's also a magnet motor that never stops???? I personally had a "42" Willys(with overdrive) that got 50 mpg. These US car companies just rip you off.
Posted by penso (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
200 mpg carbs fail the test.
Most auto makers are trying to improve their cars, and if any of those "fuel savers" worked, they would be eager to use them. Unfortunately, most of the proposed fuel saver devices just don't work as advertised and fail real world tests.

As for perpetual "magnet motors" or other "over-unity" devices, they only work as gimmicks to separate the gullible from their money.
Posted by albizzia (103 comments )
Link Flag
Prius is the new SUV
The prius is the new SUV. It's the "cool" car that you buy to show
your neighbors how awesome you think you are. I'm glad that it
is monumentally more efficient than the typical SUV and
somewhat smaller (less threat to others), but we're definitely
seeing the same idiot bozo aszhole drivers in them. Only instead
of parading how great their kid is at soccer, they're parading
how holy they think they are because their big ugly car with an
unknown true environmental impact (think: massive battery
disposal) gets "great" milage (although still less than a TDI jetta
in real-world driving). Bogus, bogus, and more bogus.

I can't wait until the moronic california solo-passanger-hybrid
carpool BS is cancelled. If solo access to carpool lanes is about
MPG, then make MPG the qualification. Same for emissions. But
to grant access based on buzzwords? That's stupid.
Posted by tedk7 (66 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The Big Picture
The Big Picture sidebar that has been added to most of your stories is truely addictive! It's like a visual, online equivalent to Burke's Connections show. Unlike the embedded links in a story (which I find to be mostly annoying), this allows me to follow my interests and curiosity in a relatively painless (though time consuming) manner. congratulations to whoever came up with this.
Posted by daleol (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Replacement Toxic Rechargable Batteries?
It will be fund paying for these in 5 years never mind having to go through the hassle and recycling. (I dont know how much of it is recyclable)

Posted by kieranmullen (1070 comments )
Reply Link Flag

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot



RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.