Toyota Motor Corp. has launched a program in which it invites suppliers to develop parts three or four years ahead of production -- before the automaker has even begun to design the vehicle.
By having suppliers develop parts independently of a vehicle's design, Toyota can give them an extra 12 months to engineer the parts, said Bob Young, Toyota's North American purchasing chief.
With the extra time, suppliers can take a clean-sheet approach to optimize parts for better performance, easier manufacturing and higher quality.
"It allows much earlier collaboration" with suppliers, Young said. "In a perfect world, we would unlink our activities" between a vehicle's design and the parts engineered for it.
Young calls the process "bundled development." Toyota plans to use parts developed this way in multiple models that share global platforms.
Young said the first vehicle to get bundled development parts will debut in 2017, but he did not identify the model. The Camry midsize sedan is due for a redesign that year, according to Automotive News' Future Product Pipeline.
In 2014, Toyota suppliers in North America used the program to design eight parts. This year, suppliers will develop 20 more, Young said, and he expects eventually to have 100.
The program is an outgrowth of the automaker's effort to engineer common global platforms, dubbed Toyota New Global Architecture, which is intended to reduce product development costs 20 percent.
Vehicles built on each global platform will share key dimensions, such as roof height and the passenger's hip point.
Suppliers can then develop parts to those specs without waiting for Toyota to design the vehicles.
By 2020, Toyota expects its global platforms to underpin half of its models. The company's initiative is similar to that of Volkswagen, which aims to design 40 models that share a common platform dubbed MQB.
Young said bundled development is intended to synchronize Toyota's global platform strategy with its monozukuri (making things) manufacturing philosophy.
The idea is to coordinate the design of parts and ability to manufacture them as early as possible.
Toyota began bundled development of parts in Japan and expanded it to North America.
Suppliers invited to join the program aren't guaranteed contracts. But because participating suppliers will get early shots at designing parts, they will have the inside track, Young said.
"This allows the supplier more input upfront," Young said. "It gives him a head start on advance planning."