Toyota aims to spice up cars with new development methods
* New framework would cut costs by sharing more parts
* Toyota to give more clout to chief engineers
* Toyota to slash members for design review
* New platform to have lower centre of gravity
TOYOTA CITY, Japan, April 9 (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp unveiled on Monday a new framework for vehicle development aimed at making its cars more appealing, while cutting costs by at least 30 percent through the use of more shared parts.
Since taking the helm three years ago, Chief Executive Akio Toyoda has sought to steer Toyota's focus back to making better products, blaming unchecked sales growth in the run-up to the financial crisis for its penchant for building popular but unexciting cars.
"The feeling at the time was, 'If we build it, they will come,'" Toyoda told reporters at the automaker's headquarters in central Japan. "Instead of developing what customers would want next, we were making cars that would rake in sales."
Under the new framework, dubbed Toyota New Global Architecture, or TNGA, Toyota will develop multiple models simultaneously to boost the number of common parts. That would help lower costs and free up resources that could be shifted to pursuing varying regional needs, Toyota said.
The company will also give greater authority to chief engineers and slash the number of executives involved in the design review process -- about 80 to 100 previously -- to eliminate layers of decision-making.
"Toyota's problem was that it had too many filters," said Tokuo Fukuichi, who took the chief designer post last year. "When you have that many people weighing in, you end up developing cars by eliminating the negatives, not by creating something positive, by taking risks."
Toyota's initiative to spice up its cars comes as rivals catch up in quality and fuel efficiency, leaving styling and vehicle appeal as increasingly important factors to attract customers. The arrival of South Korea's Hyundai Motor Co and Kia Motors Corp, with their aggressively styled and features-packed cars, has especially forced more established brands to step up their game.
The temptation of sticking to a proven design has also ailed Honda Motor Co, whose chief executive has made similar structural changes in the last year to speed up decision-making and encourage more risk-taking.
Toyota said it would initiate TNGA with three front-wheel-drive vehicle platforms, which would cover about half of the cars it produces.
Greater cooperation between the planning and design divisions will allow more design freedom, and new platforms will feature a lower centre of gravity that would improve styling and vehicle handling, Toyota said. The NS4 plug-in hybrid concept, showcased at the Detroit auto show in January, gives the first hint of that design, Toyota said.
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