You don’t get to be president of the largest Toyota plant in the world by shying away from challenges.
And make no mistake: producing the 2018 Camry, North America’s first Toyota New Global Architecture-inspired (TNGA) vehicle, is a big one.
But three years after being asked to take it on, Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky (TMMK) President Wil James – backed by the 10,000 team members under his watch – is ready to deliver.
“Our team is very experienced,” says James. “They’ve been through this rodeo a time or two. They know what needs to happen. And while we’ve never had a model changeover of this magnitude – with not only unprecedented but more complex challenges – I am totally confident we are ready to go. Our team members will make us all proud.”
The first official Camry rolled off TMMK’s Line 1 earlier this week. But James says trial builds began back in January, giving the team plenty of time to adjust to not only a new model but also a fundamentally new manufacturing process. In many ways, TMMK is blazing a trail with the new Camry that Toyota’s other North American manufacturing plants will follow. Most of the vehicles produced here will adopt TNGA principles with their next model change.
At its core, TNGA is about building ever-better vehicles on common platforms with common parts
. The aim is to also make Toyota’s manufacturing plants more flexible and thus more responsive to changes in the marketplace.
A Lot of Moving Parts
It’s an incredibly complex undertaking. Some 95 percent of the parts on the 2018 Camry are new, including many to be sourced by suppliers who are new to Toyota. All told, 87 percent of the parts will come from U.S. firms based in 23 different states.
When production is fully ramped up to speed, the new Camry will be assembled on both Line 1 and Line 2. But, for the foreseeable future, Line 1 will also continue to produce the current Avalon, which is not yet a TNGA model.
“It does add some complexity to have the old and new together on the same line,” says James. “Line 2 will be exclusively Camry so we’ll immediately see the benefits of TNGA streamlining there.”
A More Flexible Future
In the long run, the ability to produce different types of vehicles on both lines promises to be a significant advantage for TMMK. James says the plant is currently capable of producing up to 550,000 vehicles and more than 600,000 engines annually. But some of that capacity might be needed for other types of vehicles like SUVs and crossovers, given that the market is shifting away from passenger cars.
“If sedans alone are not enough to keep us busy, we’ll need to look at making other products,” says James. “TNGA will give us the flexibility to broaden our spectrum without excessive additional investment.”
For now though, TMMK’s team members are thrilled to be bringing the eighth-generation Camry to life. The stylish sedan has already garnered glowing reviews from many in the automotive media. The people who build it heartily concur.
“The feedback on this vehicle has been amazing,” says James. “We held some contests here and picked 80 team members who were given the chance to drive the new Camry at our test track. Many of them own the current and older versions. Everyone could immediately feel the substantial difference in driveability, quietness and responsiveness. I think we’ve got a winner on our hands.”
By Dan Miller