GEORGETOWN, Ky. — The electric-blue Camry rolling off Toyota's assembly line here last week clearly marked a fundamental change for America's best-selling car, with its blacked-out roof, pinched nose, side scoops and aggressive styling.
Less obvious were the myriad changes inside the Georgetown plant, which is undergoing $1.3 billion in upgrades, not just for the 2018 Camry going on sale this month, but also for future generations of cars and crossovers.
The eighth-generation Camry is the first vehicle to be built in North America on the Toyota New Global Architecture, a platform that translates into a lower center of gravity for better handling, engines with better fuel economy and more power, and looks that nod at those performance gains. But Toyota executives say the influence of the Toyota New Global Architecture goes beyond the cars to define a new approach to every aspect of car-making. Toyota New Global Architecture factories are being rolled out across the globe to give the Japanese automaker a competitive edge, building in greater efficiency and maximum flexibility at a time when consumer tastes are becoming more fragmented.
"TNGA is really about an overhaul mindset for the company," said Tom Burrows, project manager, vehicle quality and production engineering. "It's an opportunity for the designers, stylists and our production engineering and manufacturing to think about — and create — what is the best vehicle possible, the best plant possible."
The Kentucky plant is Toyota's biggest in the world, with around 8,000 workers who produced more than half a million cars last year, including a separate line for the Lexus ES. Tooling up for the Toyota New Global Architecture meant building a new factory inside the older one, while keeping the old line running the earlier-generation Camry and the Avalon large sedan.
"We don't stop making the current model while we're preparing for the new," said Wil James, president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky. "So we've had thousands and thousands of hours of people working over the weekend and working over the holidays to introduce the new technology."