Fickle consumers, fleeting trends demand short turnaround
By Ed Garsten / The Detroit News
John T. Greilick / The Detroit News
Greg Bernas, second from left, and his team brought the 2004 Toyota Solara from idea to reality in 19 months. The vehicle represents the fastest pace at which Toyota has developed an all-new vehicle outside Japan.ANN ARBOR--Bathed in bright red paint, the Camry Solara sits on display in the center of an otherwise colorless atrium at Toyota Motor Co.’s technical center like it is something special. It is.
Introduced last summer, the 2004 Solara is the first Toyota fully engineered and developed in North America — moving from idea to reality in a blistering 19 months. It represents the fastest pace atwhich Toyota has developed an all-new vehicle outside Japan and signals another escalation in the battle among automakers to bring products to market faster to satisfy increasingly fickle consumers and latch onto fleeting trends.
|Toyota's 2004 Solara coupe signals another escalation in |
|the battle among automakers to bring products tomarket |
|faster to satisfy increasingly fickle consumers. |
It took Toyota’s North American engineering staff 26 months to create and develop the 2002 Camry and 22 months for the 2004 Sienna minivan.
“The pressure is becoming greater and greater,” said Toyota executive program manager Greg Bernas. “When you had longer lead times, by the time you put out the vehicle, you mayhave already missed the trends.”
Less than a decade ago, some automakers were poking along at four years or longer to develop new vehicles. But it was “game on” when foreign manufacturers decided to tackle the lucrative light truck market, which includes pickups, minivans and sport utility vehicles and has been a mainstay of Detroit automakers for years.
The game has become even morecompetitive with the advent of car-based crossover vehicles, which give consumers the utility of SUVs with a more comfortable, carlike ride. The imports and domestics were fully engaged and lead times began shrinking as automakers rushed to lock onto the latest trends as quickly as technically and financially possible.
“There are a lot more players coming into North America,” said Mike Wall, an analystwith Farmington Hills-based consultant CSM Worldwide Inc. “We’re also seeing a proliferation in variants, whether it’s a sport utility truck or minivans, of which there are almost two or three different classifications.”
Pontiac’s new two-seat coupe, the Solstice, is another example of mind-blowing development speed.
Barely a month after arriving as General Motors Corp.’s product czar inSeptember 2001, Robert Lutz ordered up a concept version of the Solstice to be ready for the auto show in Detroit, only three months away. The production version, built on an entirely new platform, called Kappa, made its debut Sunday at the Detroit North American International Auto Show, just 24 months after the concept car’s introduction. The Solstice goes into production in 2005 as a 2006 model.The popular Hummer H2 was conjured up in just 18 months, according to GM North America president Gary Cowger, and Chevrolet’s new Cobalt small car has required just 24 months, said small car vehicle line executive Lori Queen.
“There’s been continuous improvement for us,” Cowger said of the shrinking product development cycle. “When we look at our data and what we’ve been able to do with theconvergence of engineering and manufacturing and cleaning up the front end of the ideation stage ... we’re on a par with anybody.”
Although the Ford GT is a superexpensive, low-volume vehicle, the fast track to reality for the high performance car is an example of how Ford Motor Co. is shrinking the product development window.
The GT came to life in just 14 months, according to John...