Even by slight changes in the design of the emblem, will the wind resistance of the car change?
Actually, I wish we could stop up all the gaps.
Strictly speaking, the flow of air over the car body does change, but the sides have greater influence on wind resistance than the center does. I mean, for example, the area on the sides just under the headlights. In fact, the center allows air to flow into the engine room. Since, when air enters, energy is lost and wind resistance increases, from an aerodynamic performance standpoint, it would be better to have all the gaps filled. But if we did that, the engine room wouldn’t get cooled, so, for example, we use a grille shutter to let wind in when needed. When studying aerodynamic performance, we also consider engine heat.
At work, what is your motto?
In my work, I want to be able to say,
“I did that”.
Having a chance to do this kind of work, I hope that I can say, “I did that” once it’s finished. Of my current work, I can point to the aerodynamics of the Prius. Whenever I see a Prius driving around in town, I think to myself, “I worked on that car”. That’s the good side – but there is a negative side, too (laughing). Sometimes I might think “Oh, that’s not great” about some aspect later. But, in a living environment, come “personal outcomes” that I can account for, and these make it all worth doing.
Please tell us what, specifically, is the work of fuel economy assessment.
Fuel economy assessment tests
are repeated in order to
Our work involves equipping a car with an engine that has good fuel economy, good performance and also meets legal environmental standards. Developing a vehicle takes 3 or 4 years, and for the first year and a half, it is tested nearly every day. Our approach is that, until development is finalized, even if it takes continuous 24-hour testing, we must gather all the necessary data. We are mainly responsible for the engine, but from the standpoint of overall vehicle evaluation, until final certification we give full support.
What is your approach toward the goals that you are given?
An engineer’s greatest joy is surmounting an objective that has been thought to be “impossible”.
I don’t think it applies just to Toyota, but when beginning a new project, rather than setting easily achieved goals, objectives are established that seem impossible. That is the ideal not only for the customers buying the car, but for Toyota itself. In response to the proposition of clearing an objective, through trial and error, the team as a whole achieving the distant goal is what makes the work most rewarding for an engineer.
What is the nature of the work you do?
My assignment is to improve fuel economy.
My job is to establish a fuel economy objective for a vehicle under development, to construct strategies to achieve that goal, and to carry them out. Because overall performance and overall design are related to fuel economy performance – with regards to weight – body parts and interior materials must be considered, and thought must be given to vehicle maneuverability. The theme of my work is to find a balance in these factors while finding ways to improve fuel economy.
What does fuel economy performance development mean to you?
I feel very strongly about achieving better fuel economy.
When I was a student, I studied at an external laboratory where research into establishing legislation for fuel economy standards was being conducted, not just at my university. My reason was that instead of component research, I wanted to study actual vehicles. Since coming to work for Toyota and being charged with improved fuel economy, I have learned that the motivation for achieving those goals is entirely different than when I was student. When I was scolded by my bosses for not succeeding, I spent my days even more determined. And, I had a really strong sense of achievement when I reached my objective.
What aspects of R&D give you difficulties and what about R&D makes you happy?
Accomplishing something with only a 2 or 3% chance of success.
Toyota develops its own original materials and innovations, but with a success rate of only 2 or 3%, it is a pursuit of slim possibilities. Daily, we tackle research problems with a forward-looking mindset, but most days we encounter disappointing results. Then, as we push forward bearing those disappointments, there is a day when an anticipated good result is obtained, making the joy of accomplishment even better. With the success we envision one good idea after another. That is the moment when I experience the greatest joy in my work.
When do the best ideas come to you?
Ideas come to me when I am relaxed.
It often happens when I am commuting to work or after coming home. When I’m thinking as I take a leisurely bath, a new idea will come to me. That often happens. I think that ideas come to me more during my private time that at work. When I am relaxed, I think about new test methods and wonder “We should check this or that”. When I do come up with a new idea, smiling, I share these thoughts with those around me. Maybe that seems strange to other people (laughing).
What is the process for certification in North America?
Certification is obtained through a severe negotiation process.
The specific activities aimed at securing fuel economy certification and exhaust gas certification in the United States involve applying to the supervisory government agency – the EPA (the Environmental Protection Agency). Whether Toyota products can or cannot be put on the market depends on our satisfying the environmental standards determined in the US. My job is to guide the in-company discussions and coordination regarding compliance testing, applications and negotiations with the EPA. Because the US environmental standards are really stringent, this often means tough and difficult exchanges.
What is important in your work?
I guess being called “scary” is a compliment.
I may not be an engineer, I am quite confident of getting the affection and respect to the engineers. Keeping in mind how we can all concentrate of making environmentally friendly cars, and on how I can contribute to that effort, I am careful to not get off course. I am assigned to the division that is the final outpost in the US certification process. Sometimes there I face difficult in-company conflicts. I am even called “scary”, but even so I think of it as a compliment meaning I’m accomplishing my mission (laughing).
What do you think the future holds for hybrid vehicles?
I imagine a world where hybrids
are quite common.
I believe it is important that environment-friendly vehicles become the norm. Even if an environment-friendly vehicle has zero CO2 emissions, if it isn’t in widespread usage, the resulting exhaust gas reduction will be small. It is very important that these cars are widely used. Our hybrid car has breakthrough fuel economy performance and is loaded with advanced technology. It has been chosen by many customers, developing as an environment-friendly vehicle. But, there is still work to be done. I hope to make it easier for customers to buy, and I’d like them to sense the excitement and fun that we have had in developing our hybrid.
What will the widespread use of hybrid systems bring?
I think about resolving environmental problems. These are issues that I have been keenly aware of since I was in elementary school.
I am from Yokkaichi in Mie Prefecture. Since I was brought up in a town that is famous for pollution problems, I had many opportunities to study and deeply consider environmental issues starting from elementary school. For someone like myself who strongly believes in reducing the environmental burden through energy conservation and in nurturing a beautiful planet, developing hybrid vehicles is a joy. The skies over Yokkaichi have become clear, and there are fewer chances in Japan today to actually experience environmental problems. However, there are many regions in the world experiencing the same problems that existed in Yokkaichi. There is something that we can do about that. We are pursuing our research and hope to restore the environment in those regions by advancing the widespread use of hybrid systems.