Toyota Plans To Produce 1 Million Hybrids In 2011, But What About The Quality?

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer
toyota plans to produce 1 million hybrids in 2011 but what about the quality

Toyota’s head start on hybrid technology is easily the most significant advantage any one automaker holds over any other. It’s next closest competitor in hybrid offerings is Honda which is facing serious challenges as its Prius competitor, the Insight, is off to an incredibly weak start. To capitalize on this advantage, Toyota plans to up annual production of its hybrids to one million units by 2011. Despite reports that Toyota is refocusing on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles as a long-term option, Yoshihiko Tabei, chief analyst at Kazaka Securities believes:

For the foreseeable future, the focus of Toyota’s (low-emission car) strategy will be on hybrids, not electric or fuel-cell cars. Except for Honda, Toyota is facing little competition in hybrids and is set to put distance between itself and other automakers

According to a report by the Nikkei, Toyota plans on introducing 10 new hybrid models over the next several years. Expanding the hybrid portfolio is crucial to Toyota’s ramp-up, as the firm produced a mere 500k hybrids this year, making up only 8 percent of total production. This strategy includes expanding the Prius family into a sub-brand, to include new models like the compact FT-CH concept shown at last week’s Detroit Auto Show. Switching its Mississippi plant to Prius production is another crucial component to Toyota’s ambitious hybrid strategy.

Emphasizing hybrids is a no-brainer for Toyota, but it’s not enough on its own. Automotive News [sub] breaks down some of the causes for Toyota’s decline in quality over the last year, which led to such embarassing incidents as the unintended acceleration flap and a Tacoma steering rod problem. The causes of these failures, according to Toyota’s quality czar Hiroyuki Yokoyama are:

  • Toyota’s rapid increase in production.
  • A proliferation of model types.
  • More electronic controls.
  • Swelling global ranks of employees.
  • Customers’ heightened quality expectations.

Building more hybrids in more plants will make all of these problems more likely to pop up again. The Prius sub-brand project, while a better idea than Scion, also threatens to sidetrack Toyota’s once-legendary focus. And then there’s the issue larger financial results, as Toyota seems likely to rack up another North American loss this fiscal year. Toyota has some serious work cut out for itself.

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  • Psarhjinian Psarhjinian on Jan 18, 2010
    I’ve always found it odd that Toyota plans to make their most complex, visible product (the Prius) in a brand new plant in a state with a poor reputation for education and workforce skills (Mississippi). Toyota has traditionally had very good luck in bootstrapping new facilities and dealing with an untrained workforce, so much so that their sponsorship model (eg, an existing facility effectively sponsors and trains up a new one) is a model for this kind of implementation. Assembly really isn't the cause of quality problems, at least not in the sense that most people think. Workers really have very little control over quality beyond what management enables, good or bad: the QA process they can take part in are defined (or not) by management, and the designs they build, the equipment they use, the parts they receive; they're all outside their control. "Lordstown syndrome" isn't really applicable here.

    • See 1 previous
    • Psarhjinian Psarhjinian on Jan 18, 2010

      Maybe, or maybe not. The new Tundra launch from the SA plant didn’t go so well. Part of that has been some minor and mostly corrected design deficiencies (the camshaft problem was quickly and thoroughly dealt with; the bed flex and tailgate issues are mostly being done case-by-case and reasonably well). Most of the Tundra's problems are similar to the Ford Flex's: good product, but launched right into the maw of the nastiest gas price spike in twenty years that was quickly worst recession in fifty. None of this has anything to do with the workers in San Antonio.

  • Jack99 Jack99 on Jan 18, 2010

    A few things people should note. I'm a big proponent of reading trends and making predictions. First things first, kudos to Toyota for entering the hybrid with a nice big bang. The Prius truly was a show-stopper with its amazing MPG and even politicians here in California constantly toting it as a symbol of the future. I've taken rides in this car (2nd gen) on several occasions and have always been amazed at the car's ability to handle all bumps and shocks smoothly and glide effortlessly despite its gas/electric powertrain. The futuristic button ignition, the rear-view camera, and speaker system add a nice touch to this car on top of the unique aesthetics. It's in these areas I can tell Toyota's leadership decided long ago not to compromise on the Prius' quality. However... I'm a little worried about the direction Toyota has been taking in the last 8-10 years. I've been reading more and more articles about Toyota's cars' decline in quality. I've heard only good things about the Prius, but more negatives about the Corolla, the Camry, and the Avalon the company's bread and butter. There seems to be a new trend toward the usage of cheaper plastics in its interior, a ride quality that compared to those made in the late 90's and even smaller rivals like Nissan and Hyundai isn't as refined. I'm hearing also about pedals getting stuck and the Toyota leadership being very quiet about the true cause of the sudden accelerations. I guess it's a relief that the head of the motor company who was responsible for upping the number of factories while losing focus on quality was recently replaced by the grand-son of the company founder, Toyota after the company board chastised him for his actions. I'm all for companies meeting shareholder expectations by increasing sales and profits. But I sure do hope that the Prius maintains or even improves over the generations. So far, the 3rd generation Prius has garnered mostly praises. Let's hope it stays that way for the 4th...the 5th...and so on.

    • YotaCarFan YotaCarFan on Jan 18, 2010

      I, too, believe that Toyota/Lexus quality has really gone down over the past 8-10 years. I've bought about 10 of their cars over the past 20 years, and noticed an obvious drop in quality starting with the 2001 Camry I bought - it's interior was cheap (ill-fitting panels etc) & the engine received a warranty extension due to a supposed sludge tendency. I dumped it for an 02 Camry - it had a nice interior but loads of rattles, plastic pieces inside/outside the car falling off (TSBs for all), the alleged sludge issue, and actually had the wrong stereo installed at the factory (window sticker said CD changer, but single disk unit was installed). I had a 1st & 2nd gen Prius; both were superb quality-wise. Later, I got the wife a Lexus ES330; it had a horrid transmission issue - the engine wouldn't rev and the trans wouldn't engage for several seconds after the gas pedal was pressed under some circumstances. This was mostly fixed a year or two later with a TSB. I later got an '07 Camry XLE V6 when they first came out. Interior build quality was horrible due to bad engineering, not assembly. Panels didn't line up, rattles everywhere, and a transmission that slipped, thunked, and eventually completely failed within 2 months of ownership. The dealer replaced the trans under warranty, doing a horrible job resulting in numerous returns to the shop, and Toyota's corporate office refused my request for a buy-back, robotically repeating the mantra that they only need to honor the warranty. I pointed out to them I'd read Lexus ES350s were being bought back due to bad transmissions according to Internet message boards, and they arrogantly told me that "Lexus offers a higher level of customer service to their customers". I foolishly gave the company another chance and traded the lemon Camry for a 2007 Lexus ES350. Surprise! Despite the corporate assurances that they'd fixed the trans issue, it too had a transmission slip & thunk issue (although not as frequent/pronounced as the Camry). The $40k car also was plagued with the following failures in the first 6-12 months: xm receiver failure, A/C core defect (spewed white powder into car), gear shifter, engine piston slap, rattles galore, nav system buggy as heck (lockups, data not updating, voice guidance doesn't match what's on screen (robot says "take exit 5", but screen shows exit 123)), failed HID bulbs, loose exterior trim, click in steering column, bad telescoping steering mechanism, etc. A coworker of mine also has an '07 ES350 and has the same transmission problem, plus an intermittent no-start problem (known issue - TSB for defective start button). I naively asked Lexus to buy back this lemon after 2 years of putting up with the dealer saying "it's normal!" and/or fixing/breaking things. I told them the history above and that I'd consider getting another Lexus if they accommodated me. After the factory rep looked the car over, Lexus sent me a letter declining the buy-back stating that my concerns are "normal operating characteristics". An example of my engine's piston slap that's "normal" is here: Judge for yourself whether Toyota's quality has fallen. Numerous other owners of the '07 ES350 complain about the same thing on various forums, so it's a known issue. Now, I see a number of reports of an oil line bursting in Toyota/Lexus cars having the engine that's in my ES, so I have that to look forward to. In my opinion, not only has Toyota's quality plummeted below unacceptable levels, but they are not making any effort to retain loyal customers.

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