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NINETY EIGHT REGENCY

Master Craftsmen' Ensure Lexus' Quality

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Master Craftsmen' Ensure Lexus' Quality

By YURI KAGEYAMA 06.28.07, 7:45 AM ET

Swiveling robot cameras check for scratches and engines are assembled in dust-free rooms at this Toyota plant that houses its flagship production line for Lexus luxury models. But the indisputable stars of the Tahara plant are the so-called "master craftsmen," the 2,700 veteran workers whose eyes are sharp enough to catch minuscule errors even robots and computers miss, all to ensure Lexus' top-notch quality.

Except for the Lexus RX produced in Canada, Toyota Motor Corp. (nyse: TM - news - people ) produces all Lexus models in Japan - the nation that the company acknowledges offers the best in quality manufacturing.

Toyota Senior Managing Director Shoji Ikawa said production quality, such as eliminating gaps between parts to a sliver, attained with the first-generation Lexus is now commonplace in Toyota's regular cars such as the Corolla.

The ongoing pursuit for ever higher excellence needed for the Lexus will always be tackled at a Japan plant, he said.

"We will always be trying to attain the next level," he told reporters after a rare tour of the plant Thursday. "And we will continue to do that in Japan."

At the factory, west of Tokyo, which makes LS, GS and IS Lexus models, cameras zipping around on robotic arms take more than 1,000 images of each car to check digitally for imperfections. Then corners and curves are examined by the human eye for more fine-tuning.

Wheel alignment has been perfected to such a degree that when a Lexus driver lets go of the steering wheel at 100 kph (62 mph) for 100 meters, the car will veer just 25 centimeters (10 inches), rather than the usual 75 centimeters (30 inches).

Like a judo or karate martial arts class, Toyota has a "dojo," or training studio, where workers are taught how to gauge proper bolt-tightening by the buzz of the mechanized screwdriver, and how to pat the parts into the car on the line with the right touch, like an acupuncturist at work.

Reporters watched workers in an adjacent room clawed at rubbery nets to strengthen their fingers. In another exercise, they lined up dozens of pawns of barely discernible varying shades to train sensibilities to color.

The workers get a dosage of what's called "mind training," in which workers sit in classrooms to learn about the Lexus concept and the approach to flawless production.

They also do sit-ups and work out on cycling machines to stay in shape to do the job right, said Takahiro Iwase, who heads the Tahara plant.

"Our conclusion was that there can be no how-to manual to master the Lexus production method," he said. "The only way is to build the right mind-set."

That Zen-like concentration on quality is typical of Toyota, which produced more vehicles globally in the first quarter than any other company, surpassing General Motors Corp. (nyse: GM - news - people ) for the first time.

Still, as Toyota grows, Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe has repeatedly expressed concerns quality controls are slipping amid a surge in recalls.

Promotions are based on tests that measure various production techniques. Workers rise from the 1,800-strong third grade to second grade, with 600 workers, and to top grade of only 300 workers.

Toyota officials leading the tour looked very serious when they explained that nurturing sensibilities and good taste in workers was essential for the "fusion of cutting edge engineering and master craftsmanship" that's at the root of Lexus production.

Toyota also said demand for its latest hybrid Lexus models - which includes the world's priciest hybrid - has been stronger than expected.

Since the May 17 launch date, the company has received 5,300 orders for the LS600h and LS600hL, far above the monthly target for 300 vehicles. The most expensive version sells for 15 million yen ($122,000). The models are planned for overseas sales later this year.

More affordable Lexus models go for about a third of that price or less.

Lexus consistently ranks high in consumer satisfaction surveys and was second overall after Porsche in this year's annual J.D. Power and Associates initial quality rankings, which measures satisfaction after three months of ownership.

Toyota's strong profitability is evidence of the success of its production methods centered around eliminating waste, matching manufacturing with demand and designing cars to maximize production efficiency, said Anand Sharma, manufacturing expert and co-founder of TBM Consulting Group.

"This production system is proven," he said, adding that the often blamed burden of legacy costs on U.S. automakers doesn't account entirely for Toyota's better production efficiency.

"Companies that apply the same system that Toyota has used have really resulted in growth over their competition," he said.

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This article is exactly one of the reasons why either a Lexus GS450h or an LS460 take the top spots for my hypothetical luxury car list.

Edited by Hollingsworth
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Oooooh...master craftsmen! Boy, I'm itching to run out and buy a boring-ass Lexus now!

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And a suggested alternative to the GS450h or the LS460 is?

BMW 5er

Audi A6

Infiniti M45

Jaguar XJ

Audi A8

Mercedes S-Class

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Except for the Lexus RX produced in Canada, Toyota Motor Corp. (nyse: TM - news - people ) produces all Lexus models in Japan - the nation that the company acknowledges offers the best in quality manufacturing

See, they blatantly say Americans (and Canadians) are stupid morons who can't do anything right. Yet we take it as a compliment and continue buying them...perhaps we are.

Edited by Dodgefan
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BMW 5er

Audi A6

Infiniti M45 - doesn't offer a hybrid.

None of those offer a hybrid engine.

Jaguar XJ

Audi A8

Mercedes S-Class

The Jaguar's design is antiquated. I actually agree about the A8; I'm quite a fan of the big Audi. And the S-Class is simply an abomination to Mercedes-Benz design.

See, they blatantly say Americans (and Canadians) are stupid morons who can't do anything right. Yet we take it as a compliment and continue buying them...perhaps we are.

Whoah. Talk about exaggerating things the way that everyone accuses the media of. No one is saying that Americans and Canadians are stupid morons who can't do anything right. At the company I work for, our Texas facilities have a better working rate of quality than our Rhode Island plant. Am I saying that people in Rhode Island are idiots who can't manage to put two and two together, and that Texans are God's chosen people in manufacturing? Obviously not.

Objectively, Toyota's Japanese factories have a higher rate of quality than Toyota's American factories. This is the age of the global economy. The whole "Let's produce it in America and buy American no matter what." no longer flies. It only makes sense to continue building where production quality is absolutely the best.

Edited by Hollingsworth
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Am I saying that people in Rhode Island are idiots who can't manage to put two and two together, and that Texans are God's chosen people in manufacturing? Damn right I am.

:AH-HA_wink:

Edited by deftonesfan867
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None of those offer a hybrid engine.

So?

The Jaguar's design is antiquated. I actually agree about the A8; I'm quite a fan of the big Audi. And the S-Class is simply an abomination to Mercedes-Benz design.

IMO, the XJ is extrodinarily elegant and a standout in a market crowded with similar designs. The A8 is so rare it deserves to be considered for that fact alone. The S-Class is ugly, yes, but it matches or surpasses the Lexus in certain technology.

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If I were in the market for a midsize 8 cylinder luxury car, I'd prefer it to be a hybrid. It goes along with my position on SUVs (though luxury sedans are arguably less environmentally offensive). Few people need a massive, unsightly, gas-guzzling SUV (and on that note, unless you've won the lottery and want the world to know it, no one ever needs an Escalade or a Navigator), but if you must have one, at least get a hybrid. I'm all for economic and consumer freedom, but we all have a responsibility to conserve fuel resources and our environment.

The S Class may meet or surpass the LS in some technological aspects, but it doesn't change the fact that the new S-class looks awkward and frumpy.

Edited by Hollingsworth
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Does anyone know if Cadillac and Buick do anything like this to assure the quality of their products before leaving the plant? As much as I hate Toyota, this is quite impressive that quality taken this seriously.

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And a suggested alternative to the GS450h or the LS460 is?

in terms of sexiness and personality....

XJ

A8

Pheaton

7-series

S-class

A6

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Does anyone know if Cadillac and Buick do anything like this to assure the quality of their products before leaving the plant? As much as I hate Toyota, this is quite impressive that quality taken this seriously.

Vehicles leaving the new Lansing Delta Township plant undergo a very comprehensive audit by several teams of personnel who are tasked with specific areas (paint quality, exterior fit, interior trimmings, etc) to measure with eyes, hands, and specific calibration tools. Vehicles that are not acceptable are identified and fixed before being parked for shipment.

Its far more comprehensive than it sounds and more detailed than I can describe from seeing it for a little bit, but they don't sit there using Chuck Norris' Total Home Gym to clear their mind before checking Acadias; they just do their job.

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That article made me throw up a little in my mouth.

Apparently that team of wizards inspecting the vehicle doesn't include anyone with any design sense.

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If I were in the market for a midsize 8 cylinder luxury car, I'd prefer it to be a hybrid. It goes along with my position on SUVs (though luxury sedans are arguably less environmentally offensive). Few people need a massive, unsightly, gas-guzzling SUV (and on that note, unless you've won the lottery and want the world to know it, no one ever needs an Escalade or a Navigator), but if you must have one, at least get a hybrid. I'm all for economic and consumer freedom, but we all have a responsibility to conserve fuel resources and our environment.

The S Class may meet or surpass the LS in some technological aspects, but it doesn't change the fact that the new S-class looks awkward and frumpy.

Really, what is the point? If you must waste gas, at least waste it with a hybrid? I'd rather just get a 3 series if I want to conserve gas. That way I can have a car that handles good without 400lbs extra weight because of batteries.
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If I were in the market for a midsize 8 cylinder luxury car, I'd prefer it to be a hybrid. It goes along with my position on SUVs (though luxury sedans are arguably less environmentally offensive). Few people need a massive, unsightly, gas-guzzling SUV (and on that note, unless you've won the lottery and want the world to know it, no one ever needs an Escalade or a Navigator), but if you must have one, at least get a hybrid. I'm all for economic and consumer freedom, but we all have a responsibility to conserve fuel resources and our environment.

The S Class may meet or surpass the LS in some technological aspects, but it doesn't change the fact that the new S-class looks awkward and frumpy.

But you are NOT.

You call the LS a gorgeous car? Come on, the most active baby will sleep when it sees the LS.

Lexus tried to do one upmanship in everything, yet it is as drool enduring as watching a 330-lb grandma stripping.

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Really, what is the point? If you must waste gas, at least waste it with a hybrid? I'd rather just get a 3 series if I want to conserve gas. That way I can have a car that handles good without 400lbs extra weight because of batteries.

The 3 series isn't as comfortable and doesn't provide as much room as a midsize luxury car.

But you are NOT.

You call the LS a gorgeous car? Come on, the most active baby will sleep when it sees the LS.

Lexus tried to do one upmanship in everything, yet it is as drool enduring as watching a 330-lb grandma stripping.

No, I'm not. I'd rather not have to significantly cut back on my personal expenses just so I can drive a luxury car.

Gorgeous isn't the word I'd describe the LS. "Handsome" is. It's extremely comfortable. It's exceptionally quiet. And it's assembled so perfectly that it's been an industry benchmark since its creation. When its competitors can match the LS in all three areas, then maybe they'll overtake it and become the best seller in America.

Edited by Hollingsworth
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I can agree with Hollingsworth about the LS. Its not inspiring by any stretch. Classy is how I'd describe it. If it only screams one thing, it screams money. But I gotta have something a little more expressive. Which is why I'd opt for an A8 W12 or S55. Were I well off enough to be able to afford cars that cost half as much as a nice home.

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The LS is indeed a handsome car...much better in terms of design harmony than say, a 7-series. That being said, I'd rather have an A8...or a Sixteen if they were ever to build one.

Edited by Dodgefan
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Does anyone know if Cadillac and Buick do anything like this to assure the quality of their products before leaving the plant?

At one point, Cadillac held over 1,000 mechanical dimensions to an accuracy standard of 1/1000th of an inch, and over 300 mechanical dimensions to an accuracy of 1/500th of an inch. The guages used to verify & calibrate checking instruments were accurate to 8/1,000,000ths of an inch, these gauges were themselves checked by gauges accurate to 4/1,000,000ths, these further verified by guages accurate to 2/1,000,000ths inch. These last guages were stored in a climate-controlled vault and never touched by human hands.

For those who cannot wrap their heads around English measurements, 1/1000th of an inch equates to 2/100ths of a millimeter.

I an certain Cadillac does not still utilize this (a small fraction) quality control level, just pointing out where the credit for the original true ultra-high quality automobile lies.

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Gorgeous isn't the word I'd describe the LS. "Handsome" is. It's extremely comfortable. It's exceptionally quiet. And it's assembled so perfectly that it's been an industry benchmark since its creation.

???

Since when?

The S-class has always been the benchmark by which all full-size luxury sedans are judged and have been judged since it's creation. The only thing the LS does exceptionally well is exist. It is a quiet, comfortable, well-assembled, generic car, and really nothing more. The new one is nice and there is no arguing that, but again, generic, and it doesn't bring anything new to the table (unless you consider another overdrive gear innovative). I'd hardly consider it a benchmark for anything.

You also mentioned a few posts up how nobody really needs an Escalade or other full-size suv, etc...Who makes you the judge of what people need? Nobody really needs a GS or LS either, so why do you think those are apparently ok? Why don't we all just drive around in Aveos and Focuses and Yarises, etc...That's really all we need isn't it? No...that's too much. Take the bus. You don't need a car. :P

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I dislike hypocrites and people who come onto our forum touting about how Toyota is the best automaker in the world. Opinions are one thing, but blatant outright blind bias only shows your lack of knowledge of the automotive industry in general, but it also means your limiting yourself from driving some fine gems in the industry. Face FACTS Toyota is NOT the best at everything, and nither is GM. Why am I a GM fan? Because the only Toyota I want is a Mk IV TT Supra. That says ALOT.

Edited by deftonesfan867
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If I were in the market for a midsize 8 cylinder luxury car, I'd prefer it to be a hybrid. It goes along with my position on SUVs (though luxury sedans are arguably less environmentally offensive). Few people need a massive, unsightly, gas-guzzling SUV (and on that note, unless you've won the lottery and want the world to know it, no one ever needs an Escalade or a Navigator), but if you must have one, at least get a hybrid. I'm all for economic and consumer freedom, but we all have a responsibility to conserve fuel resources and our environment.

The S Class may meet or surpass the LS in some technological aspects, but it doesn't change the fact that the new S-class looks awkward and frumpy.

RETHINK, buddy. Your choice of lexus is all about excess. If you want to conserve fuel, the jag is every bit as economical as the overwrought lexus.

You say the Jag is 'antiquated' yet it has an aluminum chassis (less than 3800 pound weight) which the lexus does not have and IIRC from R/T tests the jag gets the same or better mpg than the obese cvt-encrusted lexus. (the jag has gotten 20-21.3 mpg in R/T's testing).

I fail to see how stuffing the unattractive porker 5000 pound plus lexus with needless complexity to achieve pretty much the same mpg as the classy, simple jaguar constitutes as better.

Less is more, more or less.

speaking of less, i think the jag will save you money too.

just admit you want a fat and heavy vehicle for more pound for the dollar to show off. I'm sure there is a new 09 Sequoia with your name on it then. shame on you for buying into the hybrid hype.

Edited by regfootball
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Except for the Lexus RX produced in Canada, Toyota Motor Corp. (nyse: TM - news - people ) produces all Lexus models in Japan - the nation that the company acknowledges offers the best in quality manufacturing.

Hmph. <_<

Edited by Captainbooyah
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