Only two years ago, it would have been impossible to believe. So we'll just say it: The vanguard of a new design revolution at Toyota Motor Co. may well be the new Toyota Avalon on display this week at the New York International Auto Show.
It's true: With its striking design departure from the current generation of Avalon, the 2013 version due in Toyota dealerships later this year actually heralds a potentially important new era for Toyota. On Monday, the company announced in Toyota City it is drastically overhauling its development system, to give its engineers more freedom to experiment with bolder, more daring designs.
"We want to take more risks," Akio Toyoda, the automaker's CEO and scion of Toyota's founding family, told reporters at the company's headquarters. So Toyota will give more decision-making power to designer and engineers, and remove the number of executives reviewing design decisions. The idea is to streamline the process and raise the chances that buzz-making designs will actually find their way to market.
Such changes are certainly overdue. Certainly, the company has been preoccupied over the last couple of years with two other major problems -- one of its own making, the other not. The safety-recall fiasco that commenced in 2010 set Toyota back significantly, especially in the U.S. market, while the earthquake and tsunami in Japan early last year ravaged its supply chain for some time.
Now that Toyota's supplies and prospects have recovered, however, the company has come face-to-face with the reality of its relatively staid designs. For many years, Toyota's design conservatism didn't hurt the brand, as the company's reputation for quality, its ability to hit sweet spots in the vehicle market, and even the relative alacrity of its product-development cycle pushed the company to the pinnacle of global sales.
But those advantages have been erased or eroded by recent circumstance -- and more formidable competition from just about all of Toyota's rivals. The Toyota brain trust has taken notice and adapted.
Among other changes, Toyota also will try to cut costs by using standard parts across different models (while still ensuring enough parts variety to guarantee greater design differentiation) and ced more R&D in emerging markets to local design teams who are more in touch with national tastes.
So take in that Avalon at NYIAS, Toyota fans. It could be the start of something special.