Award-winning Toyota Yaris put to the test

Toyota Europe’s Manufacturing EVP Marvin Cooke looks back at an unusual launch

  • On January 31, 2001, the Toyota plant in Valenciennes, France, was opening its doors.
  • In 20 years, the original European home of the award-winning Toyota Yaris has produced over four million vehicles with increasing European investments in design, R&D, supply chain and manufacturing for a model that contributes around 20% to Toyota Motor Europe’s (TME) sales
  • Scheduled to hit the showrooms in mid-2020, the fourth generation of the Yaris was launched amidst manufacturing innovations at the plant and could have been seriously disrupted by the global coronavirus pandemic. It wasn’t the case.

Brussels, 9 February, 2021 Recently revealed full year 2020 sales figures have once more confirmed that the Toyota Yaris continues to conquer hearts and minds across Europe. One in five Toyota customers opts for a Yaris and segment share increased year-on-year to reach 8.4%. Buyers are, amongst others, attracted by the impressive segment-leading passive and active safety features as standard. This compact car comes for example with a standard fitment of centre airbags - a first in the key European B-segment. It should come as no surprise that demand is outstripping current production capacity.

Challenging 2020

Whilst 2020 shows outstanding sales results, it was also a year in which the Yaris production at Toyota Motor Manufacturing France (TMMF) was seriously put to the test. TME Executive Vice President Marvin Cooke, who oversees Manufacturing across Europe, looks back:

Mid March, COVID-19 was spreading throughout Europe. On March 18, we took the decision to bring all our plants in to a synchronised stop in line with the abrupt slow-down of the market and the restrictions put in place by governments. Five weeks later, TMMF was the first Toyota plant in Europe to restart its activities under a stringent set of health and safety protocols, co-created with our team members and their unions. Everyone was dedicated to ensure the run-out build of the previous generation and the timely start of the production of the new, fourth generation Yaris.
Marvin Cooke, TME Executive Vice President Manufacturing

‘Ever-better’ approach

At many stages, the preparations for the new Yaris have been challenging as production of Yaris 3 continued in parallel with a large plant make-over to prepare for Yaris 4. Cooke remembers:

In the typical Toyota kaizen spirit, the question ‘How to manufacture an ever-better car?’ was top of mind. The efforts we made can best be summarized as a smart combination of extensive people training, automation with a human touch and new manufacturing techniques.

Customer’s wish is TMMF’s command

One of the major improvements with a direct impact on the car’s driving dynamics was the body rigidity: the number of welding points was increased by 9%. In the Welding shop, more than 70% of the robotics fleet was replaced or updated, resulting in a gain of ergonomy, precision and productivity. Some of the welding for example can carry on whilst the car is moving on the line. Thanks to connectivity, robots are now better maintained and any malfunction is detected more quickly.

When it comes to automation, Toyota will only invest where it’s smart to do so. Robots are not always a first choice as people remain at the heart of the Toyota Production System. I always say, this is about using brains, rather than money.

With many customers choosing a Yaris bi-tone version, a lot of attention went into boosting the capacity for this option in the Paint shop by shortening the process time. Here, more robots allow for most of the cars to only have to pass through the paint booth once instead of twice. Adding to customers’ peace of mind, a completely new and automated process was engineered to apply the anti-corrosion coating to the underbody and more easily reach less accessible cavities.

Growing within existing boundaries

Although some shops were expanded, with the Plastics shop even doubling in space, the overall compactness of the 180 km² plant was safeguarded – a critical aspect of TMMF since Day One, and one that makes the plant in Northern France particularly efficient.

With the new Yaris, a greater number of plastics parts are made inhouse. Main benefits for the company - quality output control up, logistics costs down – have been paired with societal gains thanks to reduced transportation emissions.

The new plastics paint line has also been designed with the environment in mind.

A higher, 90% paint application rate results in less waste treatment and 30% cut in energy consumption – energy that is now procured by heating pumps replacing the previous gas boilers. TMMF aims to reach zero CO2 emissions from the plant by 2040, ten years earlier than the 2050 Environmental Challenge established globally by Toyota.

Yaris takes Europe by storm, gets a second manufacturing site and a crossover sister

Yaris success is deeply rooted in Europe.

TMMF historically is home to the Yaris production and has seen cumulative production rise to over four million units, spanning four generations since its establishment in 2001.

End of January marked the 20th anniversary and the future is looking bright. This year, the French plant will add a second model, the Yaris Cross, which is built on the same GA-B platform as the Yaris. As a result, production capacity will reach a record 300,000 units.

In addition to TMMF, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Czech Republic (TMMCZ) will start producing the Yaris later this year. TMMCZ is the former Toyota Peugeot Citroën Automobile plant which was renamed after TME took full ownership on 1st January 2021. Toyota Motor Manufacturing Poland (TMMP) is the unit plant supplying the Yaris (hybrid) engines and transmissions to both TMMF and TMMCZ.

The investment at TMMCZ to prepare the site for production of Yaris alongside the AYGO concludes a process to make all Toyota plants in Europe equipped for TNGA models. Toyota’s New Global Architecture philosophy has delivered a step-change in the ride, handling and styling of our cars. Previously, the GA-C platform for mid-sized cars such as the C-HR and the Corolla was introduced to our plants in Turkey and the UK, and the GA-K platform is underpinning larger sedans and SUVs such as the Camry and the RAV4 at our Russian site.

Besides a strong manufacturing commitment to Yaris in Europe, the region also hosts a large European supplier base, design and styling activities at its ED² centre in the south of France as well as R&D, Production Engineering and Supplier Support and Purchasing at TME’s Technical Centre in Zaventem, near Brussels. This means the new Yaris is not just manufactured in France but has been extensively tested and developed on European roads, for Europeans and by Europeans.

Solidarity down the line

With close to 5,000 employees and a cumulative investment of 1.5 billion euro, TMMF is an important employer in the north of France. It represents a strong industrial foothold whilst attracting a local supply chain in a region that was once marked by high unemployment but was reborn thanks in part to the support it gave to the TMMF project since the start, twenty years ago.

As an employer, TMMF is highly embedded in the region and as with any Toyota plant, its core value has always been to contribute to society in meaningful ways, in good and bad timesSo when the COVID pandemic set in, Toyota members demonstrated the true Toyota mindset and the value to society of ‘making’ things, something Toyota is proud to promote. Bottom-up initiatives mushroomed to supply the surrounding health care facilities with medical devices such as masks, plastic shields, and support to increase the capacity of ventilators.

More than 400,000 masks have been produced inhouse in a minifactory installed within TMMF’s premises in the second quarter of 2020. 3D printers were operational non stop to produce face shields and adaptors for medical pipe cleaning. Engineers provided knowhow in the search to provide ventilation to two adults simultaneously, at a time when needs were high and hospitals were in short supply.