Engines of Change

Powertrain Division, with some engineers and technicians still in California, will be the final piece of the One Toyota puzzle to fall into place

December 19, 2017

New Home -- Here's a view of the exterior of Powertrain's new facility in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Team members started working there in August. The full complement of engineers and technicians will move in by August 2018.

For most team members, the more than three-year journey to One Toyota has been completed — at least when it comes to the physical relocation.
 
But one group is still in transition. And, given that this is an automotive company, it’s a rather important one: Powertrain Division.
 
“We have about 320 team members across 10 departments,” says Dante Boutell, group manager of the division. “We’re about 20 percent of TMNA R&D. Yet, compared with what’s happening in Plano, we might not be on everyone’s radar screen.”
 
As with the other One Toyota moves, Powertrain will get an all-new facility designed to pull more people together under one roof and encourage collaboration and innovation. It’s in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and many engineers and technicians began calling it their new work home in August.
 
However, it won’t reach full occupancy until August 2018, when about half of the team members still at a facility in Gardena, California (near the former Toyota Motor Sales national headquarters) join their colleagues.
 
Why the delay?
 
“Powertrain is a facility-intensive activity,” Boutell says. “Relocating requires time to design, build and commission new facilities and equipment, which will include engine dynamometers and chassis dynamometers. That won’t all happen until next summer. So, in the meantime, we need 30-40 engineers and technicians in Gardena to continue with engine testing.”
 
Even when all of the pieces of this very complex puzzle fall into place, Boutell says Powertrain will still have a small presence in California to support continued development of Toyota’s breakthrough hydrogen fuel cell system. That makes strategic sense, given that the Mirai sedan is only on sale there and Project Portal, a test of the system in commercial trucks, is currently underway at the Port of Los Angeles.
 
Day Tanks -- Here's an example of what Dante Boutell means when he says that powertrain development is a "facility-intensive activity." These tanks are filled with fuel and allowed to stabilize for temperature before it is gravity fed into engines being tested on dynamometers.

A New Way to Work
 
Boutell says having the vast majority of the team in one place will massively impact the way they work and, ultimately, the engines and transmissions Toyota develops for future products.
 
“In the past, Powertrain was heavily siloed,” says Boutell. “Working groups only interacted with their direct counterparts in Japan. But now that we’re making the shift to self-reliance, where our team members are working on common projects and using common resources — such as parts, purchasing and people — it makes more sense to be in the same spot. It’s going to allow for far more synergy among the groups. Hardware and software teams will be working on the same powertrains in one place.
 
“And it’s advantageous that this R&D work will all be done in Michigan,” he continues. “There’s so much activity here with the other automakers, suppliers, universities and government agencies, such as the EPA. Along with our continued presence in California, we’re going to get the best of both worlds.”
 
The ultimate payoff? The ability to develop powertrains in North America specifically for Toyota vehicles built and sold in North America.
 
“We’re not there yet, but that’s where we’re going,” says Boutell. “The company is making a big investment in us and in our facilities. So there are big expectations for us to deliver. We’re very excited about our future.”
 
By Dan Miller

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