This is actually a photo of the new Toyota Prius. No, we haven’t lost our minds, but hear us out.
We’ve recently test driven the new Toyota Prius in Japan, and it’s a ground-breaking car not in the least because it’ll better 30km/L, but also because it’s the first car to debut Toyota’s new way of making cars. Dubbed TNGA, or Toyota New Generation Architecture, this tech will underpin the next generation of Toyota cars everywhere in the world including, we heard, a new turbocharged Corolla that will be a global model. It will likely provide the basis for Toyota’s new S-FR sports car – should the company decide to make it, that is.
What is TNGA?
The acronym stands for Toyota New Global Architecture. It’s basically Toyota’s take on a scalable, common architecture for its cars. Although the way Toyota’s representatives talk about it, it’s both a technology and an approach. Toyoshima-san says, “This philosophy of TNGA is an overarching concept of coming up with ever better cars. We tried to figure out what we need to do to make ever better cars. TNGA is the solution and the base of production.”
What’s meant by ‘architecture’?
The basic, fundamental bits of an automobile, namely the drivetrain and chassis. It’s no coincidence that these two things are the most expensive to develop. For example, Volvo’s new XC90 debuted the brand’s own Scalable Product Architecture (SPA), and that in itself cost $14.1-billion to develop. The concept of a single unified platform for many different models was pioneered by Volkswagen, with its MQB and MLB tech,specifically its ex-head of R&D Dr Ulrich Hackenburg, who’s since left his post as a result of the diesel scandal.
For the Prius, it means a monocoque body and frame that uses more high-strength steel and bonding techniques (laser screw welding, as found on the Lexus IS and RC). The component layouts will also be standardised to one of five different templates (position of the pedals and steering and seat), there’s also a focus on lowering the overall centre of gravity of cars.
Why is it so important?
According to Toyota’s press release, it’s the ‘foundation for all Toyota’s future powertrain and vehicle development.’
Scalable architecture helps resolve one of the biggest conflicts inside automaking: Between engineers/designers and accountants. It helps reduce costs and generate economies of scale, and basically makes it possible to create a whole range of vehicles that weren’t financially possible before.
Toyota also says TNGA incorporates improvements into Toyota’s ‘just in time’ production system, and also makes the production of cars itself more modular.
For example, Toyota currently has more than 100 different platforms and 400 engine types for its products around the globe. For the same reason that a Southeast Asian Camry isn’t like an American one, the ‘old style’ of vehicle development was to tailor products to each market. That helped Toyota become the world’s biggest automaker, but it no longer wants to do that – it’s putting its focus on product above all, and expecting sales will naturally follow. As Akio Toyoda says, the company now aims to make ‘ever better cars’, and the implication is that it is no longer chasing numbers.
Does this mean the ‘one sausage many sizes’ German approach?
That’s more of a branding thing than an architectural one. Toyota says the TNGA bits are largely out of sight, and will allow ‘designers to retain the freedom to produce cars that are visually stylish and distinctive and individual’. Examples include the new Prius and the CH-R concept crossover.
So what does this mean for us car buyers?
While cars are emotionally-charged things, automaking is still a business first and foremost. The payoff is that as development costs go down, the number of vehicles possible can go up. A key example? The Lexus LFA was made to prove a point (technical prowess, a halo car etcetera) but didn’t actually make the company money. With TNGA, cars like the S-FR or the next Supra actually have a shot at being produced with less cost.
Kouji Toyoshima, chief engineer of the new Prius, says, “All of us have determined that TNGA will be the basis of making and designing Toyota vehicles. It’s not just a bit product efficiency but to deliver cars that customers really want, we want to see the smiling faces of our customers. In developing Prius we were able to introduce concept (of being fun to drive) from beginning to end from beginning to end for the first time.”