Next Generation Award
Our winner’s off to Toyota
There are still 10 minutes to go before the cameras and lighting are set up for our interview, but Stephen Crossley is already engrossed in telling us all about his love of engineering. It’s immediately clear why he was a frontrunner in last year’s contest and how, despite being in his fourth month of an extensive automotive industry tour, he’s still as excited as if it was day one.
Following his placements at Mclaren, Honda and Nissan, Stephen has nearly completed his month at Toyota GB’S headquarters in Epsom, Surrey, with some of his time also spent at the vast Toyota Motor Manufacturing UK plant in Burnaston, Derbyshire. So it’s a good time to reflect on what he’s learned.
Stephen’s experience at Toyota has been exceptional in that he hasn’t been working solely in design and engineering. Because the production line at Burnaston currently churns out the hybrid Auris model, among other cars, Stephen has also been working on how best to market a hybrid vehicle and what dealerships can do to evolve in this direction.
“At Mclaren, I was very much design focused. At Nissan, I was on the engineering side. With Toyota, I’ve spent the majority of my time in Epsom, doing benchmarking on what other competitors do with their electric cars and research into what Toyota does with hybrid cars in dealerships and marketing,” he says. “I’ve been doing something that’s not necessarily in my field, but it’s been very interesting learning something else about the industry. Obviously, there’s no point in making a very high-tech car if you can’t sell it.”
Indeed, Toyota has been making moves to market its hydrogen fuel cell technology more in Europe. The more keen-eyed readers may have noticed the Toyota Mirai being used increasingly in police f leets and as some of the more luxurious minicabs snaking through London’s streets. But all of this marketing work hasn’t prevented Stephen from spending time around vehicle production. In fact, he has seen enough of Toyota’s manufacturing lines to talk us through the main differences he has noted between Toyota and the rest.
Encouraging employee feedback is a particular feature. “Toyota wants
groups of individuals to try to suggest ideas for ways that they can make the company more efficient, whether that means speed of the lines or ease of work,” says Stephen.
In addition, a slightly tougher stance on automation stands out. “Honda puts in its windscreen purely by robot. Here, they have a robot that will bead up the silicone sealant, but they will have a machine that assists someone in putting the windscreen in the right place. That’s because Toyota believes that humans can do a final check on that.”
Pressed further on the automation he has observed in the past four months, he concludes: “I wouldn’t say automation is overplayed, but there are definite advantages of trying to bring people back into building a car. But you’ve got to make sure that they are consistent in what they do.”
Our time is almost up, and being particularly aware that Toyota’s PR officer is standing behind us, it is now or never to see if we can coax out any inside info about the upcoming Corolla, soon to be produced at the plant. “I don’t know anything other than it’s getting the more powerful hybrid driveline, I think with little tweaks,” Stephen says. “I’m glad the Corolla name is back – it’s easier to pronounce than ‘Auris’.”
Stephen’s tour doesn’t finish here. Next, he is off to engineering firm Horiba MIRA, where, back in his comfort zone, he will be working with chassis and dynamics, as well as dipping his toes into modelling and crash tests. Following that, he will spend the last month of his work experience at Jaguar Land Rover before taking nine months off to relax. And by relax, he means developing a spaceframe chassis, fitting it with a Jaguar S-type V6 and gearbox and using it as a test bed for an active camber system.
I have been benchmarking what competitors do with their EVS
Stephen learned about Toyota production at the Burnaston factory