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History: Toyota Motor Company Ltd. was established in Koromo Town, Aichi Prefecture in 1937 by Toyoda Kiichiro. Koromo was a major producer of silk and before the founding of the automobile company, the Toyoda family was involved in the manufacture of automatic looms used by the silk and cotton industries.
Toyoda Kiichiro’s father, Toyoda Sakichi, after 40 years of constant tinkering and improvement with textile machinery ranging from simple wooden foot pedal looms to steam powered apparatus, had eventually invented and patented the Type G automatic loom. The loom helped mills achieve extremely high productivity levels, threatening the continuing viability of the British textile industry which had long dominated the markets. In 1929 the patent was sold to a British company (Platt Brothers) for 100,000 pounds sterling, providing a large amount of capital just before the Great Depression.
During the 1930’s the textile industry suffered and orders for new looms from the Toyoda family’s factory were slow. Looking for new growth markets, and in order to hand the company over to his son, Toyoda Sakichi permitted the creation of an Automobile Department in 1933 inside the “Toyoda Automatic Loom Works” company. Until then all cars in Japan were either imported or assembled from imported parts. There was no suitable steel supplier, and a large number of material issues needed to be solved. The early designs were essentially a matter of reverse engineering, often hand built. The Type A engine in 1934, a passenger vehicle prototype (Model A1) and a truck (G1) in 1935. In 1936 the production of the first “made in Japan” passenger car began with the launch of the “Toyoda Model AA Sedan”. This was also still an essentially hand crafted vehicle.
In 1937, the department was spun off and became an independent company inside the group, which continues to make textile machinery. The name of the new company was changed from Toyoda to Toyota – a story you will probably hear if you go on one of the plant tours. The name “Toyota” for the company instead of the family name “Toyoda” for several reasons. First, Toyoda Kiichiro wanted to make a distinction between his family (private life) and his company (public life). Secondly, in Japan people count the number of strokes it takes to write kanji, hiragana or katakana. In katakana, it takes 10 strokes to write “Toyoda” but only 8 strokes to write “Toyota”. In Japanese, eight is a good number because the kanji used to write eight also has the meaning of “infinity”. By using the name “Toyota”, he was expressing his hope for “unlimited” possibilities for his new company. Lastly (and probably the most important reason) was because native speakers of Japanese feel that it has a clearer sound than “Toyoda”.
As the war lengthened, and then spread from the Asian mainland to include the entire Pacific area, manufacturing companies lost a lot of their independence as far as decision making was concerned and produced what they were directed to by the military government of the time. Toyota rapidly became a specialist truck supplier. To minimise costs, the trucks were extremely basic (for example with only 1 headlight) and could be converted to charcoal burners due to lack of normally used fuels. Skilled workers in factories were often drafted into the military, replaced with inexperienced workers or young (also drafted) childen. The company narrowly survived the war, as the surrender came just before the Koromo plant was scheduled to be eliminated by a B29 strike.
After the war the company rebuilt itself, trying to resume civilian truck and passenger vehicle production, receiving a boost from orders placed due to the Korean war, and implementing new systems including better quality control, production engineering and materials management. Toyota company quickly became a success and in 1959, the town of Koromo changed its name “Toyota”. Today, Toyota City is about 25 times bigger than it was in the 1930s with a population exceeding 420,000. The Toyota Group itself is now one of the world’s leading manufacturers, and provides a major stimulus to the local economy.
Toyota has fifteen plants in Japan, twelve of which are located in Toyota city, the other three in Kyushu, Hokkaido and northern Honshu. The 12 plants in Toyota divide the production of parts and automobile assembly as follows:
a) Automobile assembly: Honsha, Motomachi, Takaoka, Tsutsumi, and Tahara plants
b) Engine and engine related assembly: Kamigo and Shimoyama plants
c) Casting drive trains, engines etc: Miyoshi, Myochi, Kinu-ura and Teiho plants
d) Electronics: Hirose plant
Production Tours: Tour groups gather in the Toyota Kaikan Exhibition hall between 9am-3pm (no tours 10:40-11:25) and go by bus to the plants. The tours are conducted in Japanese or English and are led by one of Toyota’s guides. Admission is free, but you will need to reserve a spot from 3 months to 2 weeks in advance. To make reservations contact: 0565-23-3922 (English) or 0565-29-3355 (Japanese)
Assembly Line Tour
This tour gives you a bird’s eye view of the production floor. The assembly line is step four in a five step process. Steps one through three involve stamping the body panels from sheet metal, welding the panels together, and painting. The Cars arrive in the assembly plants as painted shells and will leave fully assembled, ready for the final step of checking and adjusting before shipment to dealers.
As you walk above the production line, you will get a chance to see the Toyota Production System (TPS) in action. This “just-in-time” system reduces waste by producing exactly the quantity of parts that are needed. One line will produce several different car models. Look for the small grey boxes on the car roofs. These boxes communicate with the robots to tell them what model the robot is working on as well as what parts to use, etc.
This tour visits the assembly line and environmental facilities of one of the following three plants: Motomachi Plant (Environmental Center), Takaoka Plant (Wastewater Treatment) or Tsutsumi Plant (Recycling Center). Toyota decides which plant will be visited, so you will not be able to choose.
1. Toyota Kaikan Exhibition Hall
The Toyota Kaikan Exhibition Hall is a hands-on, PR exhibition of current products and the future vision of Toyota. Here you can get in many of the latest models from economy to luxury car. You are free to check out the new features, play with the multimedia sytems, adjust the seats, realize that you could never fit three average sized western people in the sports car, adjust the mirros, etc….
The first floor of the hall is broken into nine zones. According to the Toyota brochure, the “final” zone is the New Model Exhibit (where you can try out the new cars), but many visitors start here first and go backwards through the exhibit. It doesn’t really matter where you start, but if you want to follow the brochure, you will begin with zone 1 to the left of the main entrance hall. Also on the first floor is the Toyota Theater where you can watch a 20 minute fantasy film about time traveling kids and cars of the future. Admission is free.
1/ Toyota and the Environment: This section is pretty cool for its displays of mini electric cars and the only Toyota hybrid gas/electric car currently on the market. There is also info about Toyota’s recycling programs and other environmental management contributions. If you like to look at engine blocks, this is the place for you!
2/ Toyota and Safety: Ever wonder what your car would look like if you crashed it at 60km/hr? This zone has just such a display. At least for a full sized Toyota (not a mini car), it looks like the passenger cab remains intact with a crash speed of 60km, but you might not fare so well at higher speeds–food for thought. Other safety systems to check out are seatbelts, airbags, and ABS (Anti-lock Brake System) as well as a “GOA” theater about (surprise!) safety. Videos, simulators and info panels discuss “active” vs. “passive” safety.
3/ Techno-Scope: A video presenting a sort of “X-ray vision” view of the technological and mechanical systems in a car. If you want to learn how things work and operate while the car is moving, check out this display.
4/ R&D Theater: A movie about Toyota’s research and developement activites in planning & design and testing & evaluation. Topics include: prototype maufacturing, engine technologies, vehicle operation in cold conditions, high-speed running, styling desing, etc…
5/ Virtual Factory: A video in English and Japanese about the production process from start to finish. Interesting and worth watching before you go on a tour of one of the plants.
6/ ITS (Intelligent Transport Systems): This zone shows you the future of Toyota covering five areas– car multimedia (GPS systems, communications, traffic and travel info), intelligent vehicles (visual aid sensors, automatic driving controls, automatic distance control between vehicles), transport sytems(development and operational services), facilities ( electronic toll collection and parking sytems), logistics (trafic controll and other logistic systems).
7/ Car Design Studio: This zone has several computer stations where you can design your own car and simulate driving it. It’s pretty kid oriented.
8/ Advanced Automobile Technologies: Display of Formula One racing cars and other “epoch-making” cars.
9/ New Model Exhibit: (The best part) A showroom of new models to get in and try out. Most cars have operating electrical systems so you can adjust the seats, windows, and check out the Global Positioning Systems, etc…
How to Get There
Take the Aikan Loop Line from JR Station (Trains leave at 20minutes and 50 minutes past the hour) to Mikawa Toyota Station. It will take about 15 mintues to walk from the station to Toyota Kaikan. The total journey takes about 45 minutes.
Subway: Take Higashiyama Line from Nagoya Station to Fushimi Station. Change here for the Tsurumai subway line or the Meitetsu Toyota line and get off at Toyota-shi Station. From here you will have to take bus, taxi or the Aikan Loop Line train to Toyota Headquarters. The total journey should take about 90 minutes.
Meitetsu Train: Take the Meitetsu Nagoya Line from Nagoya Station to Chiryu Station. Change here to the Mikawa Meitetsu line and get off at the Tsuchihashi Station. From here you will have to get a taxi to the Toyota Kaikan. Total journey should take about 1 hour.
2. Toyota Automobile Museum
If you are interested in the developement of automobiles, then this is the perfect museum for you. The museum traces the influence of the automobile on the lifestyle and social structure of modern society. The second floor displays American and European cars from the late 1800s to the 1930s, and the third floor is devoted to Japanese cars. Next to the main museum is a three storied Annex Building. The cars exhibited here are surrounded by items from the time period when they were made. The display of such items from daily life gives you a glimpse into what was popular in Japanese society at the time.
Open: Tuesday-Sunday 9:30am-4:30pm (5pm April-October)
Admission fee: 1000 yen adults, 600 yen jr. & sr. high school students, 400 yen elementary students
Guided tours are available in the main building. Parking is free.
How to get there:
From Okazaki: Take the JR Tokaido line to Nagoya Station.
From Nagoya: Take the Subway Higashiyama Line from Nagoya Station to Fujigaoka Station. From here take the Meitetsu Bus (Terminal 2) to Nagakuteshako. From Nagakuteshako it is a five minute to the museum.
3. Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology
This is a fantastic museum created to commemorate the spirit of creativity and “making things”. In these days of sophisticated manufactoring processes and technology it is uncommon for the avergae person to have the opportunity to see the manufacture of goods. The aim of this museum is to give the average person a chance to experience the spirit and ingenuity needed to create machines that are used to “make things”. With this goal in mind, the musem is divided into to three pavilions: Textile Machinery, Autombile and Technoland.
This section shows the developement of textile making from the spinning wheel to the automated looms. As you walk through the textile machinery exhibit, you will see many different kinds of looms including the loom invented by Mr. Sakichi Toyoda which is considered to be the best loom of its time. As you leave the textile exhibit, you will enter the hall for demonstrations of metal working technologies. Here you can see metal casting, forging and cutting–processes that you are not usually able to see even when you go on factory tours.
This pavilion has interactive displays about automobile mechanisms and components, development technology, and production technology. The displays are interesting because you can actually see car components such as engines, brakes, suspension etc… in action and understand how they work. You can also compare the technologies as they were developed through the years including safety features and new power sources. While you can see the current production process on a tour of one of Toyota’s plants, here, you can see the changes made to the production line process over the years. The automobile pavilion really gives you a sense of the way things were made in the past and how the process changes as technology develops.
Here is your chance to learn through experience about principals of different kinds of force and its application to mechanics.
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