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India gets a pride of place in the Toyota world with Etios

Murali Gopalan | Updated on March 10, 2018

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It’s for the first time that a country without a technical centre leads a major model change drive

When Toyota Kirloskar Motor launched the new Platinum Etios this week, it was an important occasion for the entire team involved with the project.

This is because it was for the first time globally that a Toyota subsidiary without a technical centre had worked on a major engineering initiative. Till this time, most of the work on Etios had been carried out by the centre in Thailand which is the Japanese carmaker’s epicentre for Asia-Pacific.

Things changed with the new Etios as part of the model life management cycle where India was entrusted with the responsibility of making major changes keeping in mind customer requirements and safety. “This model has paved the way for Toyota to give responsibility at the regional level and helped us in India move forward. It is the first case of its kind since all developments happen at the global level otherwise,” says Sudeep Dalvi, VP, Product Design & Development.

The exercise involved incorporating a host of safety features like ABS, dual front airbags for driver and passenger and child seat locks. Exterior changes include a new front and rear bumper, front grille, fog lamp and new alloys while the interiors have a newfold-able rear arm rest, dual tone instrument panel, new seat fabric and fold-able rear seats. All this was based on customer feedback with the focus being on safety and comfort. The changes have also been made for the Liva hatchback.

The Etios made its debut in 2010 and was intended specifically for India as part of Toyota’s endeavour to participate in the buoyant compact car segment. Yet, all the work involved teams from Japan and Thailand even while India was the lead country for the project. The model then found its way into Indonesia and Brazil.

“Unless we show leadership, we cannot make a statement in competencies. In the process, we can also prove to our customers that we can do something important like this,” says Dalvi. Till this time, it was but natural for Thailand to take a proactive role since it is home to Toyota’s technical centre. Today, the new Etios has proved beyond a doubt that India can become a key resource for Thailand and do more work as a result.

As Dalvi says, the big takeaway is that India can now become part of Thailand’s product-led work for the future which will help the team improve its skills and also work more independently. “Perhaps we can be more involved while engineering future models,” he adds.

It also drives home the point that collaboration is the mantra at Toyota even while India’s role could grow in the coming years as a satellite centre which will complement the regional engineering centre in Thailand.

The most important part of the Etios drive was keeping in mind Toyota’s parameters of quality, durability and reliability. While it was first conceived in end-2014, engineers from India were sent to Thailand the following year to begin work. “It is a big stepping stone for us,” says Jitendra Goyal, DGM, Product Design & Development.

According to him, the company was categorical about not compromising on standards to address regional-specific issues. “Our parameters are much more global and not regional. Each component has to go through severe testing evaluations,” says Goyal.

One of the challenges was to make the armrest where big changes would have only enhanced costs. Yet, there had to be a differentiator where occupants could be seated comfortably. “You need to keep homologation rules in mind as well as costs. It was a lot of hard work and we kept the midnight oil burning,” says Goyal. After all, the Indian arm had committed itself to carry out the Etios change in 2016.

Going global

Interestingly, some of these changes are applicable to Brazil too, especially the exteriors. As Dalvi adds, the team from Brazil was in Bengaluru to help out with the entire exercise. India has been identified as the mother plant of the Etios where some of the production processes have been replicated in Brazil.

Today, there are 3.3 lakh Etios customers in India of which nearly 87 per cent still retain the model. As N Raja, Senior VP & Director (Sales & Marketing) says, the strategy is ‘safety first, customer first and Make in India by Indian engineers’. As he explains, the company changed its direction for the model which is now more sporty and elegant with better interiors, comfort and reduced clutch. The seat was completely changed to ensure better stability and comfort while bumpers were made for specific road conditions. “It is the sedan that puts your family first,” declares Raja.

From Toyota’s point of view, numbers are only one part of the story. The Etios and its hatchback sibling, Liva, may not have set sales charts afire and, on the contrary, may even be perceived as disappointments. Yet, the company insists that its priority is to focus on safety and push the envelope in sales & service. To that extent, the Etios is a continuous journey and not a destination in itself.

Published on September 15, 2016

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