Published on October 21st, 2015 | by Daniel Sherman Fernandez0
Lexus brings production of their ES 350 to the United States
With the exception of the North-American RX 350 built in Ontario, Canada, every Lexus model has solely been produced on Japanese soil. There are various reasons for this- from the lack of trust in foreign quality standards, to the belief that their local takumi craftsmen are the only workers capable of maintaining that quality. Unlike the western belief in gumption and brute force, the Japanese have a very strict worship of finesse and precision, which can only be honed over years and years of working.
But with the rise in value of the Japanese Yen, it was becoming extremely difficult to keep model prices at an appropriate level in foreign markets. Case in point is the new Lexus IS 200t, which sits at just under RM 300,000 for the base spec model. Localizing production is a necessary step in getting ahead of this problem, but with such a high level of quality in Lexus production it can be a bit difficult to replicate this outside of Japan.
So perhaps it’s only natural that the task falls upon Toyota’s Georgetown plant, in Kentucky. It was Toyota’s first self-sufficient manufacturing facility, opening in the late 1980s and having the most experience among the plants. It had the responsibility of producing the Toyota Camry, which went on to become the best selling car in the United States. In all, it proved itself worthy (if any plant stateside would be worthy) of producing a Lexus.
There’s also a little bit of logic in this, given that the Lexus ES is (or was) based on the Toyota Camry platform. That would mean that some components could be shared, but on the whole it’s mostly the basic experience and understanding of the manufacturing process that holds value in this addition to the assembly line. Toyota has pumped in 360 million USD, created 750 new jobs, and will have an estimated production volume of 50,000 units annually.
To prepare the plant workers for this monumental task, they underwent two different forms of training. 1.5 million man hours were spent on this training, including trips to Japan to study the kind of quality and consistency that Lexus expected from their craftsmen. Things as minor as stitching would be scrutinized beyond the standard of the majority of cars in production today. In accordance with Toyota’s long held belief of genchi genbutsu (go and see for yourself), the plant members also drove the Lexus ES around the Kentucky area to understand what the car was, and how it felt.
On the production side of things, the plant bought 22 new Lexus ES 350 models and stripped them down to the bare shell, then rebuilt them back up. It is this deconstruction and reconstruction that also allows workers to troubleshoot when there are quality issues or defects on the assembly line. The attention to detail and the consistency of quality are key to the Lexus brand, and if the Kentucky plant can pull it off it may pave the way for more localized Lexus production- on a global scale.