Toyota opens quality-control center

Mechanics work on a Prius at Toyota's new quality-control center in Tajimi, in central Japan.
Mechanics work on a Prius at Toyota's new quality-control center in Tajimi, in central Japan. (YURI KAGEYAMA / AP)
Posted: July 24, 2013

TAJIMI, Japan - Toyota is opening a training facility for mechanics complete with a test course that simulates 13 driving conditions, including cobblestones and bumpy roads, as part of the automaker's efforts to avoid a repeat of its recall fiasco.

A ceremony with Toyota Motor Corp. president Akio Toyoda and government officials was held at the $90 million Tajimi Service Center on Monday in Gifu prefecture, near Toyota city, where the carmaker is based.

Toyoda said quality must remain a priority even as the company becomes ever more global, with buyers driving on a range of road conditions. The center will initially train about 2,600 mechanics year, and eventually 4,800, the company said.

Toyota has about 120,000 mechanics around the world, and that number is expected to grow with sales expanding in emerging markets.

Toyota's reputation for quality was tarnished by massive global recalls that started five years ago. The automaker announced recall after recall, spanning almost every model in its lineup, totaling more than 10 million vehicles being recalled.

At the facility, Shinto priests in robes waved branches and hurled specks of paper before an altar with offerings of cabbage and oranges in a purification ceremony. Executives, dealers, and officials lined up to bow and clap in what Toyota said was a prayer that its cars would stay safe.

The renewed focus on checking up on defects even after a vehicle has been delivered highlights Toyota's determination to stop recalls from spiraling out of control - not just in development and design stages but also after production and years of use.

"No vehicle is used in the same way, and all sorts of things happen that cannot be anticipated at the development stage," Toyoda said. "It is impossible to build a vehicle that will never break down."

Toyoda pointed to one problem with Prius hybrid braking, which the company had initially deemed safe but upon testing had been found to work 0.06 seconds slower than the previous model, and customers were not feeling comfortable.

The new facility might not end recall problems, but will help the automaker respond more quickly, Toyoda told reporters.

Other automakers have similar training and test-course facilities, and Toyota also has other training centers. But the Tajimi center is among the biggest for any automaker.

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