How much do you know about Toyota Motor Australia’s Product Planning and Development division in Port Melbourne? Apparently the answer for most of us is ‘not enough’.
Which goes a long way to explaining why Australia’s dominant vehicle brand opened its doors a little wider than usual, and showed a number of media outlets around on the proviso it put stickers over our smartphone lenses.
The reality is that while TMCAu doesn’t have quite the global R&D presence of Ford and Holden in Australia - both of which retrained proving grounds here post-manufacturing - it is certainly not only a sales and marketing company either.
In fact it retains an active division of 150 designers, planners and engineers, localising cars to suit the outback where Toyota made its reputation, and working on bespoke projects - three of which are about to arrive in showrooms to considerable fanfare.
Interestingly, the number of employees within the Australian-based division has grown by 50 per cent in the past three years.
Remember the announcement in January this year that Toyota had decided to lob three tricked-up versions of its top-selling HiLux, to tap into booming demand for accessorised dual-cab utes?
Well, these projects were executed in Australia, which has been chosen as the launch market.
HiLux buyers on average drop $2000 on accessories, and Toyota Australia wants to make sure it gets a bigger share, by fitting them with parts designed here and tested here. No sweat keeping the factory warranty, either.
Quick recap: the range-topping SR5-based Rugged X has a tough alloy bash plate, winch-compatible hoop-less steel bull bar, bolder American-style grille, snorkel, LED driving lights, bright recovery points, rock rails, and a sports bar.
The Rogue is also based on the SR5, and also has a new face and tougher add-ons, without the 4x4 extras of the Rugged X. The Rugged is based on the lower-grade HiLux SR and gets a bigger steel bull bar, and a number of hardcore 4x4 accessories.
Somewhat to our disappointment, Toyota is keeping the full details under wraps until launch later in April. So instead we’ll give a run-down of the local product planning and development operation.
The division includes the following main operational areas:
- Product Design
- Product Planning
- Conversions & Accessories
- Vehicle Evaluation
Its product design work includes projects for global operations, in collaboration with other Toyota affiliates. This may mean designing and fabricating concept cars (the 86 Shooting Brake, for example), or making special edition models such as the snoozy Camry RZ.
It is also recognised as a ‘centre of excellence’ for vehicle evaluation, especially for off-road vehicles, with Japanese engineers often coming out for long periods to help test LandCruisers and HiLuxes. Australia is where Toyota honed its reputation in 4x4 terms.
Operations are based in Port Melbourne and employ around 35 designers, engineers and technicians. The facility can take initial sketches and design concepts through to scale and full-size models, and fabricate/3D print prototype parts and functional vehicles.
The studio has modelling plates and an overhead lighting system to highlight surfaces and contours. It also offers automotive design software, virtual reality headsets, and has the capacity to run multiple programs from an alloy wheel to a complete vehicle.
There is also an electronic visualisation studio with a six-metre screen that enables review and manipulation of full-size design concepts using CAD models. This can also be done in real time with other parts of the world.
The prototyping area includes two five-axis milling machines that can create clay models up to the size of a LandCruiser, along with 3D printers for producing smaller prototype components. Within the fabrication area that includes a full-size spray booth, the styling and design team can produce show cars and functional prototypes.
The styling and design facility also features a large auditorium with a turntable and adjacent outdoor area with a further two turntables to allow viewing of products in natural light and under cover.
The product planning team secures desirable vehicles and accessories for the Australian market. It is responsible for managing the vehicle line-up and detailed specification, including product updates, special editions or additional variants.
Conversion and Accessories
Toyota’s accessories are developed using Computer Aided Engineering tools and local testing. The team also collaborates with other Toyota affiliates to develop accessories used globally. The engineering facilities include workshops and environmental test chambers.
The team is based at Notting Hill in Melbourne’s ‘burbs, and conducts local evaluation and suitability testing for pre-production vehicles. With Australia home to more than 80 per cent of the world’s road types, much of the testing is done in real-world environments.
“For example, local evaluation of the current-generation HiLux covered more than 650,000 km. Closed-track testing is also carried out at the Australian Automotive Research Centre proving ground near Anglesea,” Toyota says.