GEORGETOWN, Ky. -- Visitors to Toyota's Georgetown, Ky., Camry plant will quickly notice what appears to be two workers on the assembly line kicked back in recliners about 12 inches off the floor.
But what they are really seeing is flexible global engineering in action.
The reclining team members are installing rocker moldings onto the new-generation 2007 Camry SE, and they are doing so late in the assembly process. They lie back in TV-viewing position because that is the easiest and most ergonomic way to glide along with a moving assembly line carrying an otherwise completed car body.
Why they are doing it in the first place is more complicated.
Stylists at Toyota Motor Corp. in Japan designed the SE. They put rocker moldings along the bottom of the sports package's side panels.
But U.S. manufacturing engineers at the Georgetown plant looked at the design and gave the stylists some bad news: The flared panels made the SE just slightly too wide for the assembly line. And so the factory rejected the design.
Then Camry product planners at Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. in California weighed in.
"They really wanted the panels," says David Cox, Georgetown's general manager and chief manufacturing project engineer. "They felt it really added to the sporty look of the model, which is true. So we said we'd figure out how to do it."
But the solution meant doing something that Toyota's U.S. operations is trying not to do anymore. It meant going back to the Japanese designers for an engineering fix.
The Japanese team reconceived the skirts as add-on pieces. Once they could be removed from the body, Georgetown engineers were able to install them elsewhere in the factory, at a time and place where body width was not a factor.
Hence the recliners.
The U.S. team was reluctant to return to Japan for an engineering solution, Cox admits.
"North America builds more Camrys than anybody," he says. "We're supposed to be the big brother when it comes to Camry issues. Almost everything we ask for, we get. So it was almost like taking a step backward for us.
"But it was important for the product, so it was worth it."
You may e-mail Lindsay Chappell at [email protected]