By DENNIS SEID / Daily Journal
BLUE SPRINGS • At about midnight Friday, a Barcelona Red Corolla came off the final inspection line, destined for some Toyota dealership somewhere.
It will be the last one of nearly 1.2 million Corollas that have been built at Toyota Mississippi, which began producing the 11th-generation compact car in October 2011.
“For me, it’s a little nostalgic but it’s also very exciting,” said Emily Lauder, the plant’s vice president of administration. “We’re getting ready to launch the new Corolla, the 2020 Corolla, that’s absolutely gorgeous. I think all the team members are excited about the new model that rolls out next month.”
While there was a minor tweak in the design of the Corolla in 2013, it wasn’t a major change like what’s about to happen.
In anticipation of the wholesale change in the Corolla, Toyota invested another $170 million and hired another 400 workers. The 12th-generation Corolla is built on the Toyota New Global Architecture, a platform used across several vehicles made by the automaker.
Between now and March 18, when the new and improved Corolla is officially introduced, Toyota Mississippi team members have plenty to do, said Mike Botkin, vice president of manufacturing.
“We’re going to be working on getting all the processes changed over,” he said. “It’s not just equipment as much as it is for dollies and flow carts for our parts. Maybe 98 percent of the content changes for this vehicle, so everything on the line the team members have been using the past six years is being swapped out to a new set up.”
Some “practice” car bodies will be produced in the next week or so for team members to get familiar with their new equipment and parts needed for the changeover, Botkin said.
“We’ll kaizen (Japanese for continuous improvement, a staple in the Toyota Production System), for any interference or items that make the walk or each a little more than normal and watch it very closely,” he said.
Currently, Toyota Mississippi is producing a car every 75 seconds or so. At its peak capacity, it can knock off four seconds. The goal, Lauder and Botkin said, was to get back to that figure.
“We’ll be running at a faster line speed and jumping back as soon as possible,” Botkin said.
Even for veterans at Toyota, the change to a completely new platform for a vehicle is unusual. That’s what makes what’s happening in the next few weeks both challenging and exciting, officials said.
“We feel like we’re ready and can make those fine-tuned adjustments as needed,” Botkin said.
Said Lauder, “We’ve added 400 new team members in the last six months who have been through all the training processes, and they’ll be ready to build the al-new Corolla.”
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