Toyota will make radical changes in the way it produces its future electric models. The goal is to catch up with electric vehicles. And why not, catch up with Tesla!
More and more, Toyota is making headlines on the subject of electric cars. It must be said that the world’s leading automobile manufacturer in 2022 (10.5 million vehicles sold) has fallen well behind in terms of 100% electric vehicles. He who was nevertheless the pioneer of electrification with his hybrid and plug-in hybrid cars.
From now on, there is no question of wasting any more time. It’s even quite the opposite: you have to take the TGV (or rather the Shikansen) and quickly reinvent yourself to catch up with the best. Obviously with Tesla in the sights. We must quickly forget the 24,400 electric cars sold last year and set out to reach 1.5 million electric sales by 2026, and even 3.5 million by 2030.
A completely redesigned production
And all of this involves a complete overhaul of the production process. We have already known for several months that Toyota will take over one of the solutions of the American giant Tesla in the production process of its vehicles: the Giga Press. But that’s far from everything. And the Japanese giant plans to halve production time and reduce equipment costs by 25% thanks to digitalization.
But then how does Toyota intend to go about achieving a zero-emission car with 1,200 kilometers of range and flash charging? In an interview with Automotive NewsAkihisa Shiaro in charge of this revolution in electric production at Toyota revealed the plan in more detail.
3D modeling and Giga Press
Before the new 100% electric Toyota models see the light of day, we must think about how they will be produced. And in order to think about the new assembly equipment needed, Toyota will adopt the technology “ digital twin“, a sort of digital twin of the equipment that will actually produce the car. Thanks to a 150-inch monitor and extremely powerful software, it is now possible to design the future production machine as precisely as possible, down to the millimeter. Virtual reality is also being introduced into the process, allowing engineers to adapt the equipment to the future parts that will be produced, but also with the aim of optimizing the assembly line as much as possible.
A 150-inch screen…
…and virtual reality for the optimization of the production chain.
The transition from virtual to real then makes it possible to optimize the actions of workers, and sometimes also to create machines to automate certain tasks and increase productivity.
Productivity which will be optimized by reducing the number of parts in the assembly of future models. As already explained last June, this is inspired by Tesla’s Giga Press which allows much larger body parts to be molded. Toyota’s goal is to produce a three-part car with the front, center and rear.
The solid battery in the starting blocks
What would an electric car be without its batteries? When we know how important they are in the overall price of a car, we understand why they are also at the center of Toyota’s attention. In this case, in its Teiho factory, the manufacturer produces its prototypes of new generation cells and battery packs. We are talking here in particular about the solid state battery.
With more autonomy and faster charging, it would be ready to be industrialized and marketed by Toyota from 2027-2028. And mass production here also needs to be completely rethought so as not to damage the very sensitive materials that constitute them during assembly. Assembly speed and alignment are thus optimized. We are then talking about a range of 1,200 km (on the WLTP approval cycle) and recharging in just 10 minutes!
And then the chemistry itself was redesigned and simplified with a bipolar configuration that requires only a third of the components. Whereas in conventional batteries the individual current collectors are coated with an anode or cathode, one collector from each being matched to form a set, in the bipolar configuration each current collector is covered with an anode and of a cathode on opposite faces.
And Toyota is also reducing battery prices by using LFP technology on its bipolar batteries instead of rare materials like nickel and cobalt. The range of this battery will exceed 600 km, an increase of 20% compared to the current lithium-ion battery in the bZ4X SUV, while reducing the cost by 40% thanks to cheaper chemistry.
Autonomous cars before being on the road
Still in order to optimize the production process of its future electric cars, Toyota is looking at the bodywork side and seeking to reduce welding on the car as much as possible. In addition, with the different models made using the “Giga Press”, workers can more easily insert parts and components before the modules are soldered together.
As for paint, the Japanese manufacturer hopes to reduce paint use by 15% and costs by 10%, in addition to a 17% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.
Finally, in the final step, Toyota wants to abandon anchored, expensive and inflexible assembly lines. Hence the decision to ensure that its future produced cars move around the factory on their own. Once the parts are assembled on each module and the three sections are combined, the car moves forward on its own. This is how seats and other components can be mounted before the roof and side panels are attached, simplifying the design and operations of robots and other equipment.
The crazy thing is that this self-driving assembly line uses vehicle control technologies and sensors that the car uses for autonomous driving! Autonomous cars, therefore even before being on the road and which travel at a speed of 0.36 km/h. Cameras located throughout the factory track the cars and keep them moving along the route.
Finally, even the finished car, there will be no more human driver to take it out of the factory, to the outdoor parking lot from where it will leave for the whole world. Fleets of robots will do this by sliding under the car and lifting it up until loading it onto a truck. Toyota explains that it can replace 22 humans with 10 robots.