MELBOURNE, Australia -- Toyota is beefing up its design capability with a technical center here that will lead product development for the Asia-Pacific region outside of Japan.
This month, Toyota opened a $47 million operation here that employs 50 engineers. Toyota hopes to expand the center to 120 employees by 2007.
Max Gillard, COO of Toyota Technical Center Asia Pacific Australia, said the center has taken over the Australian engineering for the next Camry that will be built at its Altona, Australia, plant.
By adding its fourth technical center outside Japan - Ann Arbor, Mich.; Brussels; and Bangkok, Thailand, are the others - Toyota believes it can be more in touch with local product and local suppliers.
"We will be looking after design for Asian and global products, and that means the local suppliers can be a part of that," Gillard said.
As part of the buildup for its Australian technical center, Toyota sent its Australian engineers to Japan for a year.
"We wanted to make sure they knew how to operate within the Toyota system, so when they came back here they could hit the ground running," Gillard said.
The Melbourne center is not part of Toyota Australia but reports to Toyota Motor Corp. in Japan. But Gillard said the intent is to compete in international design competitions with Toyota.
"We'll be involved in many projects simultaneously," Gillard said. "That's why we have to be cost-competitive."
Technical center President Takeo Yagi said that, apart from playing a significant role in designing the next Camry for Asia-Pacific, the center is expected to be a training ground for the region - one of the fastest-growing automotive markets in the coming decade.
The Melbourne and Bangkok centers will conduct simultaneous engineering, reducing time from the drawing board to the showroom.
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