Toyota’s battle to meet up with Tesla in a brand new period of electrical automobiles is enjoying out in one of many oldest elements of the carmaking enterprise: the meeting line.
The Japanese carmaker has been claiming know-how breakthroughs in solid-state batteries and final week positioned an $8bn guess on the US electrical automobile market because it tries to influence traders of its capacity to compete with Tesla.
However Toyota can be being challenged by Tesla on the manufacturing facility ground, the place the world’s most beneficial carmaker is pioneering a elementary change to the way in which vehicles are made. Tesla chief government Elon Musk argues that legacy meeting processes should be modified for battery-powered automobiles, simplifying and dashing up carmaking with fewer suppliers and automobile fashions.
Some automotive executives and analysts count on Tesla’s course of — which Musk calls “gigacasting” — to set a brand new benchmark for constructing automobiles, changing the vaunted Toyota Manufacturing System based mostly on just-in-time manufacturing effectivity.
“The best way Toyota builds vehicles has been thought of the usual however it’s extraordinarily surprising to assume that what Tesla is proposing is prone to turn out to be the usual for producing EVs. The influence on Japan’s automotive manufacturing might be monumental,” mentioned Takaki Nakanishi, a veteran automotive analyst who runs his personal analysis group.
It leaves Koji Sato, Toyota’s new 54-year-old president, combating to indicate that his firm’s well-honed strategies for producing thousands and thousands of automobiles annually in a number of configurations will stay a aggressive benefit within the electrical automobile period.
The best way Tesla is making vehicles “is rapidly shifting to turn out to be an business customary”, mentioned one senior government at a European automaker.
Tesla has been utilizing gigacasting as a producing technique for its Mannequin Y sport utility automobile since 2020. Musk has mentioned he first had the thought after taking a look at his youngster’s die-cast toy vehicles — and questioning why that might not be replicated for the true factor.
Historically, the primary physique of a automotive has been made by welding or stamping collectively a lot of separate elements. Gigacasting or megacasting, however, makes use of casting machines to power molten steel into moulds beneath excessive stress to supply massive aluminium physique elements, akin to the whole underside of a automobile.
The business has been utilizing casting for years for smaller aluminium parts, however Musk’s plan to make complete automotive our bodies utilizing the know-how has pressured different carmakers to assume greater. Tesla didn’t reply to a request for remark.
“Megacasting is the proper instance of the place you’ll be able to exchange 100 elements with only one,” mentioned Erik Severinson, head of technique at Volvo Automobiles.
This protects time, labour, price and manufacturing facility house, changing a number of robots that weld automotive elements along with a single machine. The price of altering a whole bunch of elements means carmakers sometimes produce a automobile for 14 years, with modest adjustments half manner by way of its life cycle. Casting would change this timeframe and permit carmakers to refresh their line-ups extra rapidly.
Gigacasting utilizing aluminium can be one response to the way in which that massively heavy auto batteries are reshaping how vehicles are designed.
“Battery tech is driving gigacasting tech. You need to produce a lighter automobile and for that you simply want a lighter physique with a view to enhance the driving distance,” mentioned Kota Yuzawa, a Goldman Sachs analyst in Tokyo.
Whereas aluminium prices greater than metal, “should you mix all the parts, the associated fee construction needs to be flattish or barely higher, however by way of efficiency the gigacasting is clearly higher,” mentioned Yuzawa.
The remainder of the business is taking discover. Volvo will combine casting into its third technology of electrical automobiles later this decade. Normal Motors chief government Mary Barra mentioned this yr that the corporate had ordered two “giga press” machines with the intention of utilizing the know-how for mass-market automobiles.
Toyota, too, is engaged on the identical method because it goals for an enormous ramp-up of EV manufacturing. Throughout a sequence of plant excursions in September its executives admitted that there was a lot to study from Tesla and different EV producers in China.
However Toyota has signalled that it doesn’t intend to undertake the Tesla strategy to gigacasting wholesale, relying as a substitute on its a long time of expertise to seek out its personal strategy.
“To be trustworthy, we’re behind in gigacasting since we’ve but to roll out a product,” Kazuaki Shingo, Toyota’s chief manufacturing officer, informed analysts and traders. “However we’ve accomplished casting for a very long time . . . and in the end we consider we will produce a product that might be cheaper, lighter and thinner with excessive efficiency.”
By adopting gigacasting and utilizing new meeting traces, Toyota will goal to chop processes and plant funding by half.
However executives are cautious of manufacturing automobiles with a single moulded underbody. As issues stand, altering one broken half in a automobile is comparatively low-cost and straightforward. If the entire underside had to get replaced, it might result in a major rise within the variety of automobiles deemed too pricey to restore.
Manufacturing specialists agree that is probably a serious downside of the know-how. “The large query is what number of vehicles being made with [gigacasting] must be written off to make it not price utilizing,” mentioned one automotive manufacturing professional who advises Toyota and different carmakers.
Toyota is contemplating whether or not producing an underbody in a number of items may cut back restore and insurance coverage prices — probably vital elements for an automaker with a a lot wider world market than Tesla.
Toyota, the world’s greatest carmaker by annual unit gross sales, has laid out plans to promote 3.5mn battery powered automobiles yearly from 2030. However this yr it nonetheless solely expects to promote 123,000 pure EVs on this full fiscal yr, in comparison with an total automobile gross sales goal of 11.4mn.
The carmaker has mentioned it stays dedicated to what it calls “a multi-pathway strategy” that depends on a broad number of vehicles bought throughout greater than 170 international locations, together with many the place EVs may stay unaffordable for years to return.
“We don’t truly assume that our 10mn automobiles will instantly shift to gigacast,” Shingo mentioned, saying the carmaker wished to spice up productiveness as an entire by mixing legacy manufacturing traces with new EV manufacturing strategies.
For the second, Toyota says it desires greater than half of its 2030 gross sales goal to be made up of EVs utilizing its new modular structure, which permits it to produce a number of completely different fashions, that share key parts, on the identical platforms.
No a part of Toyota’s new tech push has obtained as a lot consideration because the batteries, together with solid-state, that its engineers are creating in-house.
However analysts and Toyota’s personal executives suspect the adjustments wrought to meeting traces in response to the calls for of battery know-how might be simply as vital.
“I feel these are the areas the place the variations will emerge . . . and I hope these actions will assist us to return forward,” mentioned Akihisa Shirao, normal mission supervisor of the Toyota enterprise unit overseeing EV manufacturing facility technique.
Yuzawa mentioned: “Gigacasting goes to reshape the entire underbody provide chain community.”