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Designers take charge at Toyota


Toyota’s new Alphard and Vellfire minivans, revealed today in Tokyo, are laden with new technology, like the impression to the driver that the car is transparent, or a computer, that parks the car nearly by itself. The minivans also come with Naoya Ukaku, a Toyota designer, and the trailblazer of a new, design-driven management concept.

Ukaku’s title is “Project Chief Designer.” Beginning with the Alphard and Vellfire, all new Toyota models will have one. “The PCD is like a chief engineer for design development,” Toyota’s Dion Corbett told me this afternoon. “He remains the car’s chief designer from idea development, through commercialization design all the way to sales preparations.” Until now at Toyota, these functions were handled by three different departments. The departments remain, but in the future, the Project Chief Designer stays with the car, and transitions with it from department through department while it gestates from the rough scribble on a napkin to final launched product.

Alphard launch - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt

The new Project Chief Designer embodies the looks of a Toyota, just like a Toyota Chief Engineer represents the heart and soul of the car.

A Toyota Chief Engineer is responsible for all aspects of the car, from concept creation through production to sales. He unites many functions that remain separate, and not seldom conflicted, at many carmakers. Some adapted Toyota’s model and put a “heavy product manager” in charge of the car, but that manager usually remains a manager. At Toyota, the father and nurturer of each car is an engineer.

Some Toyota CEs have achieved cult status. Tetsuya Tada, the CE of the Toyota 86, or Haruhiko Tanahashi, the CE of the Lexus LFA, are revered by fans around the world. Others, like the Corolla’s Shinichi Yasui, enjoy less limelight, and heavier responsibility.

The PCD is part of they company’s still mostly mysterious Toyota New Global Architecture,” a total revamp of its product development and production strategy. More of it will become known as 2015 marches on.

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