Yasuhiko Ichihashi has worked on the Toyota Camry, Corolla and Celica. But his latest assignment may have been his greatest challenge: engineering Toyota's entry-level car for global sales -the Echo in America, the Yaris in Europe and the Vitz in Japan. He was given a clean slate and an all-new platform.
During a drive through the streets of Carlsbad, Calif., Ichihashi talked to Staff Reporter Mark Rechtin about what Toyota wants from the Echo in America. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation.
What was the starting point for the Echo? Powerplant? Suspension? Packaging?
We designed it from the interior package first, from the inside out. Then we did exterior design. The people inside had to come first, then the mechanisms.
We wanted to make the powertrain as small and lightweight as possible. But reducing weight also was important to performance and fuel economy. And while we were thinking about the car and the minimal affect a small car should have on the environment, we also knew we didn't want to do it at the expense of losing performance.
Was there ever a thought of using the Europe-market 1.0-liter engine?
We discussed having a smaller engine, but acceleration onto the highway is very important to Americans. We even had a higher differential ratio for a while, but we needed more acceleration, so we used a lower differential ratio and gave up a little fuel economy.
Are you afraid the Echo might cannibalize Corolla sales?
Yes, I think we may have that problem a little bit, because there is more roominess in the Echo. But the Corolla is also more luxurious than the Echo. You can still tell that this is an entry-level car.
To hit a $10,000 price target, what did you do to reduce costs?
The best way to reduce cost is to reduce weight and also parts. For example, with the old suspension's ball joint, we had a ball joint and an arm that had three sets of bolts and nuts. But now we weld it into one piece so we can save on weight and parts complexity.
Also, the torsion-beam rear suspension has good packaging with a lower floor and also more space for passengers. But it has only two bushings.
What competitors did you benchmark?
There was no exact competitor, because Geo Metros are lower and Neons are higher. But we looked at the Neon, Civic, Escort and Saturn. We didn't look at the Koreans, even though they have a price advantage.