TRAVERSE CITY, MICH. -- When Toyota Motor Corp. prepared a new generation of its Sienna minivan for the 2004 model year, company engineers and officials first got to know their existing products intimately, logging 56,000 miles across North American roads.
The engineers were following a basic Toyota principle of real knowledge based on actual locations and actual problems, said Andy Lund, program manager development, planning and operations for the Toyota Technical Center in Ann Arbor, Mich. Lund talked about the Siennas development at the Management Briefing Seminars on Monday, Aug. 4.
The deep dive on the existing Sienna was the same concept Toyota engineers had used to upgrade the automakers first minivan program of the 1980s and the oval-shaped Previa minivan of the early 1990s. The process, Lund said, is a real expansion on the kaizen continuous improvement process.
Too often, the real experience and from an existing product is not followed by other automakers that are too anxious to re-invent the wheel, said John Miller, a consultant and former product development executive for what is now the Chrysler group, and Ford Motor Co.
The North American approach, we have a tendency to throw out the baby with the bath water, Miller said. Rather than learning from the product that is out there, we start all over again.
Rhoda Miel is a staff reporter for Plastics News, a sister publication of Automotive News.