After recalls, Toyota ready to grow again

After extended introspection at the world's biggest automaker, Toyota Motor Corp. says it has put its massive recalls behind it and is preparing to reengage its growth engine once again.

The Japanese company outlined a new "architecture" Thursday centered on product development and manufacturing initiatives it hopes will be more immune to quality problems, and allow it to keep growing in a sustainable way.

The first cars under the system, medium-size front-wheel drive cars, will roll out later this year and will be expanded to half its lineup by 2020, Toyota said.

Executive Vice President Mitsuhisa Kato acknowledged that managing the company's global scope and model lineup had become an increasing challenge.

"It is making our effort to come out with ever better cars increasingly difficult," he said at company headquarters in Japan.

He pointed to how President Akio Toyoda had decided to take an "intentional pause" in rapid growth to strengthen the automaker's competitiveness.

The recall fiasco resulted in more than 10 million vehicles being recalled around the world, mostly in the U.S., for a range of problems, including faulty brakes, sticky gas pedals and ill-fitting floor mats. Toyota paid penalty fines in the U.S. and faced a number of lawsuits.

Before the scandal, Toyota had a reputation for high quality, centered around its super-lean production methods that empowered workers to hone in on quality control. Toyota has acknowledged repeatedly that it had tried to grow too fast.

There was no single massive change being pushed at Toyota under the new program, but rather a combination of efforts to guard against flaws while maintaining an edge in product appeal, such as cool-looking exterior designs and safety technology.

The plan that Kato kept calling "TNGA," short for Toyota New Global Architecture, is similar to solutions being pursued by other automakers, such as Japanese rival Nissan Motor Co. and Volkswagen of Germany, which are trying to balance quality and growth.

Toyota said it had programmed robots to simulate the delicate hand movements of a craftsman to shape a car's body. It also created its own way of screwing with lasers that shortened the welding of each screw from 2 seconds to 0.3 seconds. It shortened the line for stamping a metal part from 65 feet to 6 feet by making the machines smaller.

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