A township that revolves around Japan's world-famous automotive company...

Vinod Jacob

As one retired Toyota honcho rightly said, there is no life in Toyota-shi, unless there is the Toyota Motor Company (Shi stands for city in Japanese). Toyota-shi houses the headquarters of the Toyota Motor Corporation, the world's second-largest and fastest growing automobile corporation.

Unlike Detroit, which is easily approachable, this city stands inside Japan's main island about an hour's drive from Nagoya. Toyota-shi is home to most of its plants namely the Honsha, Motomachi, Tsutsumi, Takaoka, Miyochi and Kamigo to name a few, and hence deserves the Motown tag.

Modest, harmonious

The headquarters is housed in a modest three-storey building, which retains the old Toyota logo from the Toyopet days. The legend `Toyota Motor' is written in simple letters.

Nearby is the new 14-storey building of the Toyota technical centre, the incubating ground of technology. Adjacent to this is the Honsha plant, once known as the Koromo Plant, which was Toyota's second plant to start mass production.

The Toyota campus is very open and has no specific boundaries. The roads, houses and even life in Toyota-shi are similar to those in other Japanese cities. Interestingly, the Toyota campus doesn't look impressive enough for a company that boasts such market and growth figures. What is remarkable however is the way things are put into practice here.

When I was a little boy it was fascinating to read about Toyota's vision for non-polluting vehicles to replace existing versions. I used to marvel at the sketches of the futuristic small vehicles plying inside the Toyota campus. A visit to the Toyota headquarters proved this to be a reality. Just outside the Toyota technical centre are the E-com vehicles put on a charger. Toyota employees use the colourful electric vehicles to drive between the helipad, work and home.

The beginnings

Sakichi Toyoda started a spinning and weaving company called Toyoda Automatic Loom Works Ltd at Nagoya City. With a downturn in the textile business his son Kiichiro Toyoda started an automobile company, initially in a small area near the textile factory. Later, in 1938, he went in for mass production on the outskirts of Nagoya at a place called Koromo town, which was renamed Toyota-shi in 1959. This plant, now known as Honsha, overlooks the Toyota headquarters and churns out the Toyota Land Cruiser.

The Kaikan Showcase

The Kaikan hall near the technical centre is where audio-video presentations and other exhibits are used to demonstrate Toyota's vision for technology and harmony with nature.

Visitors are welcomed by robots playing the clarinet. The Kaikan hall also displays the company's range of vehicles and visitors can explore these freely. The exhibits include non-polluting cars and personal mobility vehicles like the i-unit. With the company's entry into Formula One, visitors can partake of the excitement and thrill of motor sports with the TF 101 Formula One car on display, and the Tundra for the NASCAR truck series.

The `Toyota way' is explained through audio-video shows that cover concepts such as JIT (just-in-time manufacturing system), Kanban cards, andon cords, synchronising dolly for instruments, and

raku-raku

flexible seats.

Evoking history

Located some distance from Toyota-shi is the Kurugaike museum and park, which was built in 1974 to commemorate Toyota's 10-millionth vehicle. The museum portrays the company's humble beginnings with the manual and non-stop shuttle looms used by Sakichi Toyoda.

Further down the hall is a photo gallery on the life and times of Kiichiro Toyoda his birth, college days, trips to the West, his colleagues, the establishment of Toyota Motor Company and other accomplishments.

Visitors can also sample a radio drama detailing the struggles involved in launching the first Toyota car and truck, namely the Model AA sedan and G1 truck. It describes the secret disassembly of a 1933 Chevy sedan on an October autumn night and the trial-and-error approach to cast a cylinder block. Toyoda felt it was the quickest possible way to learn.

The museum also exhibits the Toyota Model AA, Japan's first passenger car, and the 1955 Toyopet Crown Model RS, the first domestic car indigenously designed and produced, thereby fulfilling Kiichiro's dream after the war. Outside the museum is the Kurugaike Lake and park, a popular spot for family outings during the weekends.

Everything that's Toyota

Near the Toyota-shi railway station is the Toyota hotel. The Toyota stadium, with a retractable roof and a giant video display unit, can hold 43,000 people. Constructed for the 2002 World Cup football, the stadium is now used for concerts and other events.

A restaurant at the top of the stadium offers a wonderful view of sunset over Toyota-shi, with the Toyota Ohashi and Kyuchohashi bridges in view.

These bridges over the Yayagi river were built in such a way that there is more space for pedestrians than motorists. Environment concern here is apparently more than just PR.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated August 18, 2006)
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