One day at the factory in Valenciennes, looking back at ten years of success with our engineers
It was the summer of ‘99. I was working at a car dealer, enjoying a chat with the owner – a happy man renowned as one of the best dealers of its brand in France. The two of us had a small debate about the future of one particular new model. He was not so convinced about its market potential in Europe, whereas I was much more optimistic. The car looked fresh. It was going to be built in France and a major step-up for its manufacturer. We were talking about Toyota’s new model, the Yaris.
I’m happy history proved him wrong for once… Replacing the old Starlet, the first generation Toyota Yaris was not only elected Car of the Year in 2000, but also proved a major success for Toyota in Europe, reaching almost two million sales since its introduction, and helping the Toyota brand gain a stronger foothold in Europe.
Proof of its success was even truer when, last week, I spent a day in Valenciennes going around the factory with 250 journalists to discover the brand new Yaris, and to look back at over a decade of Yaris production in France. I was not the only one of the Toyota team there to wonder about the Yaris success and to reflect on everything being accomplished over the past decade. Yaris Chief Engineer, Yamamoto-san was there, a man who has been involved with the project since the first generation, a man with vivid memories of all the good and challenging times he had at the factory and how the whole city of Valenciennes changed since his first time here. Didier Leroy, Toyota Motor Europe President & CEO, and former head of the factory, was probably the most local person there. Involved since the setup of the factory, Didier, a native of the region, looked like he was back home surrounded by all the engineers he has spent so much time with over the years.
Even as the event focused on all the quality efforts that went into the development of the new Yaris, our Valenciennes colleagues were the true heroes of the show. Those who have been involved in the factory since its creation could not stop mentioning how things have changed through the different generations of the Yaris. Following a typical Toyota kaizen philosophy, not only the design or the specs of the car, but also the processes at the factory have been modified and improved with the launch of the third generation.
Eric Meunier, an already experienced production engineer at that time, will always remember the day, back in 1999, when he was asked by Didier Leroy to join the new company to work on assembly quality. At that time, quality engineers in North of France were mainly dealing with ISO certifications and he could not imagine making it his career. And then he joined Toyota, a company where quality is present at each step of decisions taking, in the vehicle development, and through the whole manufacturing process. Eric is still there today, and through the years and the different Yaris models, improving quality became his true personal motto!
In a move to further improve information sharing and decision making with all involved divisions in Europe and Japan, Eric became in 2008 the first new Yaris Vehicle Project Manager. He helped raising the voice of the factory and its people to the attention of our R&D colleagues. With a more 360° approach, and setting-up regular “obeya” meetings with the Chief Engineer, his team has been able to heavily weigh in on some design and development decisions to improve the assembly and manufacturing processes at the factory.
The new Yaris built-in quality not only benefitted the new roles and responsibilities of Eric, but all factory workers will see major improvements in their working life. Quality at the working place, ergonomic standards and ease of operations have been drastically improved versus the previous generation thanks to the efforts of Eric’s team of 80 members. It is a huge improvement for the Toyota factory and its workers.
All these efforts combined with the investment of € 100 million in the introduction of the new Yaris and an additional € 25 million for its future hybrid derivative, are further proofs that Toyota is serious on its investment in Valenciennes, in Europe and its commitment to make Europe the center of expertise for the development of compact cars.
Eric is now back at his desk and on the line, preparing for the launch of the future Yaris HSD, but on the day, he and all of our 3,500 colleagues in Valenciennes were getting particularly emotional as the first new Yaris, in an immaculate white coating, rolled off the line, marking the start of a new chapter for Eric, for the factory but also for all of us in Toyota in Europe.
For more info on maintaining the best levels of built-in quality, check out the following video: http://www.youtube.com/toyotaeurope#p/c/666AD98046A0B3CA/2/KF1nSe5jei4