DETROIT — When the Toyota Prius hybrid compact car debuted some 25 years ago, its breakthrough fuel-sipping gasoline-electric drivetrain shattered industry norms.
In doing so, the Prius also proved that Toyota Motor Corp., a company renowned for safe and reliable, but conservative, cars could throw down the gauntlet with revolutionary new technology.
Now, Toyota wants to rekindle that pioneering spirit by overhauling its R&D operations to be better, faster and cheaper in a cultural shift to unleash its engineering corps' creative juices.
The goal is shedding Toyota's traditional risk-averse mindset to deliver vehicles that are revolutionary, not just evolutionary, to compete in the ultracompetitive age of new mobility.
Leading the charge in North America is newly appointed Chief Technology Officer Mike Sweers, the truck-crazy Toyota veteran who took the helm of the region's R&D nerve center on July 3.
"We're not changing fast enough. Toyota's design is evolutionary, not revolutionary," Sweers told Automotive News in a Sept. 5 interview at Toyota's main technical facility just outside Detroit.
"Can we survive if we don't think differently?" he said.
Sweers cites the Prius as a prime example of the right approach to risk: "We have to be willing to fail at something." And under his leadership, Sweers promises a rebirth of that trailblazing spirit.
"We're going to have products coming out that are revolutionary," he said.