Niimi said Toyota modeled the system after the quick-turnaround factory ordering methods of Dell Computer. Toyota representatives visited Dell's operations in Austin, Texas, to design the ordering system, he said.
But the quest for quick-delivery factory orders is more than a customer thrill, said Michael Flynn, director of the University of Michigan's Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation.
"It's a way to reduce inventories," Flynn said. "If you can get customers to order exactly what they want instead of having to shop around an inventory on a dealer's lot, then you reduce inventory cost and you lower manufacturing cost."
At the same time, reducing inventories is one way to stanch customer incentives.
Niimi said the plan should benefit dealers, who also will be able to custom-order their inventories - and do so later. "If they realize that a certain vehicle combination is hot in their region, they can alter their future vehicle orders with a very short lead time," Niimi said.
Niimi said the system will include every vehicle built in North America. Toyota will have 10 Toyota and Lexus models in production here by the end of next year: the Toyota Camry, Avalon, Camry Solara, Sienna, Corolla, Matrix, Tundra, Sequoia, Tacoma and Lexus RX 330. Toyota also is building two North American truck assembly plants - in San Antonio and Baja, Mexico - that will begin production in 2005.