Can you believe that Toyota has just built its 10 millionth car in Europe? It is a big number to try to imagine, but if you parked each one nose-to-tail, they would just about circle the world.
Step one towards the milestone we are celebrating this week took place back in 1971 when a Corolla became the first European-manufactured Toyota, put together in Portugal from a kit shipped from Japan. They are still producing vehicles at the Salvador Caetano factory (currently Land Cruiser 70 models for export to South Africa), but today Toyota’s operations are on a much greater scale, with six vehicle plants and three powertrain factories located in seven different countries right across the continent.
Between them they produce all our best-selling European models: the Yaris sub-compact car in France, Auris and Avensis sedans and wagons in the UK and the Verso MPV and Corolla sedan in Turkey. The AYGO city car comes from Czech Republic, in a joint project with Groupe PSA (the parent company of Citroën and Peugeot) and, further east, Toyota Motor Russia builds Camry sedan models in St Petersburg. Petrol, diesel and hybrid engines and manual transmissions are made in the UK and Poland.
We have reached the point where currently almost three in every four new Toyotas sold in Europe have been built in Europe.
That healthy sales ratio of locally built cars is set to rise, as the new TOYOTA C-HR crossover is going into production this year at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Turkey and the new RAV4 SUV will start coming off the line in St Petersburg this summer. Production is not just for “local” sales; a good number of our European-built vehicles are exported to other countries around the world, including North America. Avensis models have even been shipped to Toyota’s “home” market in Japan.
Our investment in large-scale manufacturing in Europe began with the setting up of engine and car factories in the UK in 1992, initially to make the Carina E (the E standing for Europe), a mid-size sedan that pre-dates today’s Avensis. Quite rightly that first car took pride of place among the current Toyota line-up at Toyota Motor Europe’s Brussels HQ for the formal celebrations for the 10 million manufacturing milestone.
One of the big developments in our production programme was the launch of hybrid vehicle manufacturing in Europe, starting in 2010 with the Auris Hybrid at Burnaston in the UK, followed by the Yaris Hybrid at Valenciennes in France. The TOYOTA C-HR will mark the start of hybrid production in Turkey, using engines supplied by our Deeside plant in the UK.
To date, we have invested more than €9 billion in European manufacturing, creating thousands of jobs, not just in our own operations, but also among the hundreds of businesses that supply us with parts and services. Around 20,000 people are directly employed by Toyota in Europe in various functions – from R&D to Sales and Marketing, from Purchasing to Environmental Affairs.
Our strategy of building cars local to where they are sold means we are well-placed to understand the preferences and priorities of our customers in different world markets, and the kind of driving conditions that need to be taken into account. That is why our investment in Europe hasn’t just been about factories, it has also been used to set up technical and design facilities that make sure new models are shaped and engineered to suit European customers’ tastes.
Today’s Yaris, Auris and Avensis have all been styled – inside and out – at our ED2 design studio in the south of France and have benefited from ride and handling tuning carried out by the team at our technical centre in Belgium. Last year alone 660,000 Toyota vehicles were built in Europe.
There is an environmental benefit, too, as our European factories continue to pioneer cleaner and greener ways of working. Toyota Manufacturing UK and Toyota Motor Manufacturing France both operate eco-plants, which put into practice innovative ways of eliminating waste, harnessing sustainable energy sources and minimising the use of water and other natural resources. They also provide a focus for spreading the word about how everyone can play a part in protecting and nurturing the natural world around us. Building cars close to our customers also cuts down the numbers that have to be shipped long distances to reach the showroom.
Of course 10 million is a single milestone in a continuing journey on which we hope to deliver ever better cars made for Europe, in Europe.