Most of a $391 million investment announced by Toyota Motor North America last week for its San Antonio truck plant will go toward retooling for the next generation of the brand's midsize Tacoma and full-size Tundra pickups.
But part of the investment will go into an expansion of so-called cobots for the assembly plant's line workers — robotic aids that lessen the physical strain of performing a task hundreds of times a day.
Toyota and its San Antonio work force have been experimenting with robotic aids for over a year. Some are relatively simple, such as an automated spring-loaded seat worn on the legs that allows for working more comfortably beneath a vehicle moving on the assembly line. Others are more complex, including exoskeletons that bear much of the load when lifting an object or working overhead.
On Tuesday, Sept. 17, the Japanese automaker said it would "introduce advanced manufacturing technologies" to its production line in advance of the two pickups moving onto a new platform, internally called F1, over the next four years.
Automotive News first reported in April that Toyota's next-generation Tundra and Tacoma would share the platform, which the automaker plans to spread to all of its pickups globally.
In July, commissioners in Bexar County, Texas, approved the automaker's request for a 10-year, 80 percent tax abatement for the proposed investment in the 16-year-old Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas body-on-frame plant.
No additional jobs at the plant are anticipated, a Toyota spokesman said.
The investment would boost the plant's capabilities through the installation of additional robotics and other technologies. However, Toyota Group transmission supplier Aisin AW Co., which supplies the plant, in July announced a $400 million investment to bring 900 jobs to a nearby plant in Cibolo, Texas.
Current-generation Tundras and Tacomas are built in sequence on a shared assembly line in San Antonio. The Tacoma also is assembled at a pair of plants in Mexico.
Building the two pickups on different platforms creates complexity beyond that of the 37 cab and powertrain variations they combine to offer.
Toyota's investment also includes a $500,000 donation from Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas to Alamo Promise, a local agency dedicated to addressing poverty, enhancing economic and social mobility and meeting work force demands locally. The donation will occur over five years.
Including the latest investment, Toyota Motor North America says it has spent more than $3 billion on the San Antonio plant.
Development of the shared-platform pickups is near completion, and they are expected to be introduced beginning in 2021 with the next-generation Tundra. The Tacoma is expected to move onto the F1 platform in 2023.
Details of how the shared platform will affect design or features remain unknown, although top Toyota executives have pledged to offer fuel-saving hybrid technology on all Toyota models, including pickups.
Toyota's pickup lineup is the industry's oldest. The current-generation Tundra dates to 2007, with major updates last introduced in the 2014 model year, while the third-generation Tacoma dates to 2015. A freshened 2020 Tacoma debuted in February at the Chicago Auto Show.
Through August, U.S. sales of the Tundra are up 2.2 percent from a year earlier to 78,012, while Tacoma sales have risen 4.7 percent to 169,292.