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Toyota Turns to New Technology and Old-Fashioned Methods to Make up for Lost Ground in EVs

Toyota is using a combination of new technology and old-fashioned methods to make up for lost ground in battery electric vehicles (EVs).

At factories in Japan, the automaker has turned to self-propelled assembly lines, massive die casting, and even hand polishing to improve efficiency and reduce costs.

Toyota is also using automation and 3D modeling to extend the life of older equipment. For example, three-decade-old equipment used to process parts can now be run at night and on weekends, tripling productivity.

Toyota’s manufacturing prowess is rooted in its Toyota Production System (TPS), which emphasizes continuous improvement and squeezing costs. However, in EVs, Toyota has been eclipsed by Tesla, which has used efficiencies of its own to build market-leading profitability.

Under new CEO Koji Sato, Toyota has announced an ambitious plan to ramp up battery EVs. The automaker accounted for only about 0.3% of the global EV market in 2022, but it aims to have 30 EV models in its lineup by 2030.

One innovation that Toyota is emphasizing is its self-propelled production lines, where EVs are guided by sensors through the assembly line. This technology removes the need for conveyor equipment and allows for greater flexibility in production lines.

Toyota is also using die-casting technology to produce aluminium parts far bigger than anything used before in auto manufacturing. This technology is pioneered by Tesla, but Toyota has developed its own innovations, such as molds that can be quickly replaced.

Toyota has also introduced a self-driving transport robot at the Motomachi plant in Toyota City that ferries new vehicles across a 40,000 square metre (10 acre) parking lot. This job is typically done by drivers before loading cars onto carrier trucks.

The automaker said it aims to have 10 of the robots operating in Motomachi by next year and will consider other plants after. It could also sell the robots to other companies.

By combining new technology with its famous lean production methods, Toyota is hoping to close the gap with Tesla and other EV leaders.

Shayne Heffernan

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