Toyota’s Innovation Process:

What We Can Learn from the Prius

By Shlomo  Maital  

            Prius

Prius 2014

  How did Toyota develop and build the Prius  in record time?  How has Toyota developed and sold 40 million Corollas? (We have one, it has over 300,000 kms. or 180,000 miles and is going strong). 

   I learned a lot from an advertisement, perhaps the first time an ad in TIME was more interesting than the editorial copy.  The ad was an article by Mitsuhisa Kato, Toyota’s VP for R&D.  Here is a summary of what he said:

   * Get your R&D people out into the world and out of their darn labs:   “Seeing people drive so fast on rough roads where I would have slowed to a crawl [front-wheel drive Corollas in nations with unpaved roads] was eye-opening.  It highlighted for me the importance of venturing out into the marketplace to see things firsthand.”

  * Organize around technologies, not features:  “We launched the first-generation Prius in 1997. That was only two years after we formally initiated the development process! (Project head) Takeshi Uchiyamada (now Chair of Toyota) got inspiration from NASA’s Apollo program.  Its managers identified the technologies they needed, and assigned a development team to each technology, enduring each team met its target and deadline. We adopted a similar tack. 

Get your engineers to talk across disciplines:  “We moved the mechanical engineers and the electrical engineers onto the same office floor.  Their face-to-face interchange raised our technical discourse to a new dimension and brought important progress.”

Innovation is not rigidly bound by tradition but driven by it: “A renowned Japanese potter quote Auguste Rodin to me —  Tradition is not inheriting the skeletons of the past, it is inheriting the SPIRIT of the past.  We at Toyota honor the spirit of the joy of mobility. 

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