VALENCIENNES, France -Toyota aims to build cars to dealer order at the assembly plant it is constructing near this city in northern France.
'Our head office in Brussels is working on this issue, and both the Toyota Motor Manufacturing Europe and Toyota Motor Engineering and Marketing divisions are involved,' said Didier Leroy, vice president in charge of manufacturing at Toyota Motor Manufacturing France. Leroy will manage the future factory
'Valenciennes should not start with a regular order system,' he said. 'At the moment, it's the responsibility of Toyota Motor Engineering and Marketing to process dealers' orders.'
Contruction work here is progressing rapidly. The factory walls will start rising from the ground next month.
The plant, located in Onnaing, near Valenciennes, will become the model site for Toyota worldwide. It will be ultra-lean, ultra-efficient, and ultra-compact.
It will also be the first Asian auto plant to be located in France.
Land excavation began in December 1998, and work on the foundations began in mid-March. After June, 'everything will evolve very quickly,' said Leroy. Construction will be completed in February 2000, after which the assembly machinery will be installed. Job 1 is scheduled for January 2001.
The FF4 billion (euro 605 million, $648 million) plant will make the Yaris supermini. In the first stage, 900 employees will work a single shift. That figure will eventually grow to between 1,500 and 2,000 employees working two shifts. Toyota is targeting output of up to 150,000 units a year.
Leroy and seven other people have been working out of temporary offices since October 1998. The offices are located in an engineering school on the outskirts of Onnaing, that belong to the Valenciennes Chamber of Commerce. A permanent base will be established in the town in early 2000.
Besides Leroy, the team includes Claude Boulle, Toyota Motor Manufacturing France vice president for finance and personnel; Francois-Regis Cuminal, human resources manager, three plant coordinators from Toyota; and two assistants.
Leroy is presently concerned with the hiring of future plant managers. Between 80 and 100 people are required.
'We want to hire all the managers and engineers needed to run the plant by February 2000,' Leroy said. Five positions have already been filled in the areas of quality management and logistics. This month, Toyota advertised 25 vacancies in manufacturing operations through classified advertisements in French newspapers.
To fulfil the demands of French authorities, Toyota will give priority to job applications from people living in the surrounding Nord-Pas-de-Calais area. There is an unemployment rate of almost 20 percent in the region. A local employment agency has received 12,000 enquiries about jobs at the Valenciennes plant since January 1998.
'If we do not find the required skill levels in the region, we will broaden our search,' said Leroy. 'But previous examples such as Sevel Nord (the joint PSA-Fiat plant near Valenciennes) prove that about 70 percent of employees live close by.'
Future managers and engineers must show the willingness and ability to learn the Toyota production system.
'We are looking for people who are humble enough to be able
to understand and learn the system,' said Leroy. 'They must communicate positively, and enjoy working as part of a team. They must have the potential to offer suggestions to improve the system in the future.'
To train the new employees, Toyota Motor Co. will send 25 coordinators - mostly engineers - to Valenciennes from the Takaoka plant in Japan. The Witz, as the Yaris is called in Japan, is made at Takaoka. The coordinators will stay at Valenciennes for between three and five years. Initially, up to 100 other trainers will help the coordinators prepare the plant for start-up. 'In order to reduce costs, part of the training could be done by people from our English plant in Burnaston,' said Leroy.
The majority of Valenciennes' workforce with be hired in the first half of next year, in order to be trained during the second half.
'We have no rigid criteria with regard to sex, age or qualifications,' said Leroy. 'To simply hire young people would be foolish. We just want to find the best people - not necessarily the youngest, or those with great experience in the automotive industry.
'But work on the assembly line at Toyota is hard, because the 'kaizen' process of optimization leads to a heavy workload,' he stressed.
Valenciennes will also be a model for future Toyota plants. It will be extremely compact, with manufacturing shops spread over just 15,000 square meters.
'We do not want to make as many cars as possible, but we do want to make them at the lowest cost possible,' said Leroy.
Logistics is another key element of operations.
'Just-in-time deliveries will be at the top level,' said Leroy. 'We have worked a lot on the flow inside the plant, but we must still improve the supply flow outside, both in respect of orders and relationships with suppliers.'