Europe as inspiration and laboratory for Toyota
One thing seems obvious to everyone: Toyota is a Japanese company. This is, of course, true. The roots of our company and its global headquarters are located there. However, in reality Toyota is much more complex, and much more international. For several years, Toyota has invested a lot to develop local activities in all key regions around the world, including Europe, where we operate no less than nine manufacturing plants. More than half of the vehicles we sell here are also made here, with most purchasing done with European-based suppliers.
We are now working on the next chapter in this story of decentralisation, which aims to bring our efforts closer to our customers around the world. We already build cars in Europe, but our next aim is also to develop them locally, from the minds of our engineers and designers to ready-to-build prototypes. That’s the role of our Technical Centre in Zaventem, Belgium, where some 770 people, of about 50 different nationalities, work in R&D, Purchasing and Production Engineering divisions. Established in 1989, the Technical Centre has been expanded a number of times since, now occupying around 250,000 m², including a brand new 65,000 m², state-of-the-art proving ground.
On July 8, 2011, we invited media and local partners to the inauguration of this new € 47 million proving ground and explained how this new facility will help us to accelerate the development of future vehicles. The proving ground will be used for testing and confirming key vehicle characteristics, such as engine, braking, steering and handling performance, vehicle isolation to road noise, and more. Our engineers will be able to put their theories and technologies in practice on actual cars without wasting time and energy looking for some far-away test track.
The proving ground will be a key asset to help our Technical Centre fulfil its mission, as outlined in Toyota’s long term strategy, for Europe to become Toyota’s global laboratory for the development of future cars in the small and compact segments which are at the heart of the European automotive market. In other words, one day, the work that’s been done here in Belgium might even result in vehicles marketed in Asia, South America… or even Japan! I guess that’s another way to look at Toyota as a Japanese company…
Europe inspires Toyota, but it might also be true in the other way around, as demonstrated by our guest of honour during the inauguration event, Mr Steven Vanackere, Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs. After highlighting the importance of Toyota’s contribution to the local economy and praising the links between Japan and Belgium, he concluded by the following haiku, which I leave for you to reflect:
Car faster than wind
Speed in safety is the fruit
Of very slow thoughts.