Section 3. Rapid Growth of the Japanese Market and Development of the Lexus
Item 3. Building Plants in Kyushu, Hokkaido, and Tohoku
Initiatives taken in conjunction with building plants outside Aichi Prefecture
Toyota Motor Kyushu's Miyata Plant, which became the first assembly plant built in Japan since TMC's Tahara Plant went into operation in 1979, introduced an assembly line based on the new concept of "Capability of perpetually evolving and improving in response to people, cars, and the social environment". The most notable feature of the new plant was the adoption of an "autonomous and dispersed, functionally complete line", in which work is completed within each group. That is, the main line is divided into 11 segments according to functions such as instrument panel installation and engine room installation. A group consisting of approximately 20 members is placed in charge of each segment and only transfers its finished work to the succeeding segment after verifying the quality. The new line system resulted in a drop of nearly 80 percent in the number of defects and a productivity improvement of 10 percent compared to conventional long, contiguous lines. Above all, the adoption of the system of completing work within each line resulted in group members feeling more passionate about manufacturing and feeling a higher degree of responsibility, which were immense benefits.
At the same time, with respect to automation, TMC placed importance on coexistence with human operators. Rather than trying to haphazardly increase the automation rate, TMC focused on automation that reduces physical strain from tasks and paid attention to creating a work environment in which even female and older workers could work enthusiastically. These features of the assembly line at Miyata Plant were rated highly and the plant received the Okochi Memorial Foundation Production Prize in 1993. The plant's concept was later incorporated into other assembly lines that TMC built.
In December 1997, Toyota Kyushu began producing the Lexus RX 300 and subsequently developed into a major production site for luxury vehicles.
In line with its expansion into Kyushu and Hokkaido, to supply parts to its distant production bases there, TMC devised a new combined land-sea transport system that could efficiently transport a larger volume of parts without reloading than truck-based land transport systems. For Kyushu, parts from suppliers were first gathered at a new collection center in Kamigo, Toyota City, and then loaded into trailers and transported to Nagoya Port by truck. From there, only the trailers were shipped on a dedicated ship to Hakata Port, from where a truck shuttled between the port and Miyata Plant to efficiently transport the trailers.