(Nikkei: November 18, 2015 – p. 12)
Toyota Motor Corporation will start production of its all-new hybrid vehicle (HV) Prius in December. Nikkei Shimbun was granted an interview with Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada, the man in charge of the development of the first-generation Prius, which debuted in 1997. In the interview, he said that HVs were “the core technology [in the development of] fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) and other next-generation vehicles.” He said that it is important to value autonomy in the workplace in technology development and also to allocate time and labor for “auxiliary activities.”
Toyota launched the Prius as the world’s first mass-produced HV. This summer its [worldwide] cumulative sales of HVs passed the 8 million mark. HVs account for over 40% of auto sales in Japan. Uchiyamada commented on how Toyota had developed the Prius in a short time. He explained, “Setting high goals leads to breakthroughs in technology development.” Motors and other technologies developed for HVs “decreased the costs of next-generation vehicles,” he added.
The self-initiated efforts by one group of engineers at Toyota to develop electric vehicles (EVs) accelerated the development of the Prius. “Employees should allocate a certain amount of their time and labor to things that they think are important, not just to development activities based on companywide [development] scenarios. (Toyota) is strengthening this initiative.”
Turning to industry, Google in the United States encourages its engineers to spend 20% of their time on things other than their regular work duties. Uchiyamada explained that areas that were thinly staffed under the traditional framework have become important, adding, “Materials require development work at the molecular level.” As part of that trend, 25% of staff and work time at the Toyota Central Research & Development Laboratories (Nagakute City, Aichi Prefecture) are used on things other than commissioned research, which is their core activity, he noted.