7/6/2004 | 10 MINUTE READ

The Art of Scion

Originally titled 'Meet the Scion tC.'
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How utilizing blazingly fast product development, a realistic cost calculation system, completely engaged engineers, designers who want to achieve something different, the Toyota Production System, a different philosophy about how to bring cars to market, and more result in a coupe that ought to get Gen Y (and more) customers on the 'net ( www.scion.com ) or into their dealers post-haste… and which ought to leave other vehicle manufacturers shaking their heads in wonder. Or, Meet the Scion tC.


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Dr. Shigeyuki Hori has a PhD in bioengineering. Which should be kept in mind when also realizing that he is the executive chief engineer for more vehicles in the Toyota Motor Corp. lineup at one time than any other chief engineer in the history of the company. These products are:

  • Prius
  • Celica
  • MR2
  • Caldina (Japan market)
  • Opa (Japan market)
  • Avensis (European market) and last, but not certainly least,
  • Scion tC

Recounting his time at the University of Tokyo, Hori notes, "My nine years at university taught me the importance of process and procedure, and how problem-solving can be successful when the process is unique to the problem."


Arguably, the tC project had its own share of problem-solving requirements, in as much as the goal of the team was to develop a vehicle that would be appealing to Gen Y buyers NOT because it is an econobox (which it isn't) with a bitchin' sticker of $16,475 (manual transmission-equipped, but that price includes delivery), but because it is a car with the feel and amenities that are more characteristic of higher-priced vehicles, especially Euro coupes. Hori admits, "Our goal was to give the tC the upscale look and feel, the fit and finish, and the attention to detail that approached that of a Lexus." Note two things about that statement: (1) he doesn't say that the goal is to be a Lexus or even Lexus-like, but rather that the Lexus was held up as the model to be emulated; (2) he doesn't say, "that approached that of a Toyota."

Go To School On This:
If you want to create a vehicle that over-achieves, aim high.

MISSION: Possible or Why cost wizardry is crucial for making a car at this price point.

It is fairly likely that Dr. Hori didn't get the assignment on the tC because of medical studies. Rather, because he is the developer of the Toyota Cost Calculation System. He explains that when he was the assistant chief engineer working on the Corona/Carina Japan-market vehicles, he came to the realization that costs were being estimated based on relative vehicle types, which essentially made calculating the true total cost of a vehicle impossible. "If total costs were not accurate, it made it impossible to accurately figure out cost-reduction targets." So he went to work and created the Toyota Cost Calculation System. Dr. Hori says it "reflects the exact cost of each part." Which means, "With this data, we can reduce costs more effectively." (It is now used on all Toyota vehicle development programs—so one could speculate that TCCS is to product development what the Toyota Production System is to manufacturing.)

Being able to have an accurate handle on costs undoubtedly led to the ability to create a car that is priced at $16,475 and comes with standard features including:

  • Panoramic power moonroof
  • 17-in. alloy wheels
  • Four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD)
  • Cruise control
  • Power locks, windows, mirrors
  • Keyless entry
  • Pioneer 160-W AM/FM/CD head unit with six speakers
  • Chrome exhaust tip
  • More. Lots more.

It's not surprising that one of Dr. Hori's nicknames is "Dr. Cost-Magician."

Go To School On This:
Cost estimates get you only so far. Having a precise understanding early on keeps you from having to change the program parameters later on.



Even though the tC is built at the Toyota Tsutsumi plant along with the Toyota Prius and Camry, cars that are, in their own realms, benchmarks, Hori and his team aimed in a different direction. It is a fair statement to say that the tC is a car of a different class. Difference is part and parcel of the Scion raison d'etre. As Jim Farley, vice president of Scion, proudly states, "The Scion tC is the very first vehicle developed exclusively and strategically for the Scion brand." It joins the xA five-door and the xB urban utility vehicle (which are built at the Takaoka Plant). Farley continues, "After nearly four years of total immersion in this vital-and-emerging culture we call 'Gen Y,' we will bring to market the most important piece of the puzzle. The coupe concept is the youth concept. Its focus is on style and freedom and personal expression—which are the core values of the Scion brand strategy." Or one might say, "the heart and soul" of the Scion brand strategy. Which brings us back to Dr. Hori. His final project in grad school involved examining "the factors that affect the rate of speed that oxygen travels through the blood. Through many experiments I found that oxygen speed depends, primarily, on blood temperature." When things heat up and the heart starts pumping, with the right focus, things can move quickly—whether we're talking oxygen or sheet metal. With the tC, Scion is speeding things up in a variety of ways, and more than in the case of the 2.4-liter, 16-valve, DOHC with VVT-i, all-aluminum engine that produces 160 hp @ 5,700 rpm and 163 lb-ft. of torque @ 4,000 rpm.

Dr. Hori, when asked about the 13-month development program for the tC, seems somewhat surprised at the fact that he's questioned by someone who evidently finds that speed to be remarkable. "Thirteen months is typical for our development programs in Japan," he answers, nonplused.


Go To School On This:
Clear focus on what needs to be developed can help increase the speed with which the program gets accomplished.

When you want to talk the talk, sometimes its necessary to drive the drive—like the pros do
When asked about the biggest challenge that he faced in the development of the tC, Dr. Hori answers, in effect, that it was undoing some of the work that had already been done on the project. The engineer who had preceded him on the program wanted to develop the vehicle based on the Corolla platform. Dr. Hori wanted something that had better handling characteristics. He wanted to use the Japanese market Caldina as a basis (the platform is also used for the award-winning European Avensis). Which the tC is based on.

Ride and handling were essential to the development of the tC. The objective was to create a vehicle that would match the Volkswagen Jetta. Dr. Hori determined that if he was going to be able to clearly define and describe to the chassis engineers what he wanted for the car, he'd have to be able to talk in terms that they'd understand. So Dr. Hori trained to become a test driver.

He evidently became passionate about driving to extremes. That is, one of the aspects of the Scion approach to vehicles is that modifications are if not exactly de rigueur, then at least expected. Some Scion owners buy dealer accessories (Farley: "Although Scion dealer margins are typical for the subcompact segment, dealer profitability remains strong due to the significant additional profits from accessorization"—Scion has what they call the "pure-price philosophy," which means that a price is a price: the dealers sell and deliver; they don't haggle. And as for the amount of accessorizing, the average additional amount spent at a dealer for tricking out a Scion ride is approximately $1,000.). Some Scion owners go all-out and retrofit their vehicles to the extent that they are truly one-offs. Dr. Hori developed such a project car, the tC Rally. It features a carbon fiber roof; partial carbon fiber hood; Toyota Racing Development (TRD) Japan carbon fiber rear spoiler; TRD USA sport muffler; TRD supercharger; Momo Evo carbon/titanium SK-77 shift knob; Recaro SR III Challenger front buckets. . . . All of which is to say that Dr. Hori's project vehicle is all about driving.

Go To School On This:
If you want to excel, then it requires commitment—commitment that undoubtedly goes above and beyond your job description.

More than magic for the tC & Scion

While Dr. Hori undoubtedly worked his magic during the vehicle development—according to Farley, "every nut and bolt was examined"—there is more to the comparatively amazing price point of $16,495. Farley points out, for example, that platform sharing is fundamental. Its closest kin, the European Avensis, has annual sales in excess of 115,000 units, so there is that. And, of course, the Toyota Production System does play its role in keeping costs competitive. Farley suggests that because Scion "will continue to evolve," it is likely that as models are redone in the line up, Toyota's fast product development and flexible manufacturing will be utilized to their fullest extent. In other words, it is likely that the next-generation xA and xB will be far different vehicles than the current models. Perhaps even the nomenclature will be different.

Another aspect of the Scion approach to efficiency is the approach the company is taking to offering options. That is, in the case of the tC, there is just one factory-based option: front seat-mounted side airbags and front and rear side curtain airbags. (On the subject of airbags: the tC has standard driver's knee airbags—this is a first for Toyota-built cars; only the Lexus RX 330 sport ute offers it.) So essentially, the factory is providing cars with a selected color and with the selected transmission. Then, cars are accessorized either at the shipping port or at the dealer. Because these are added at company-approved locations, the accessories are covered by a warranty.

Consider the simplification of the build at the factory. That reduction of typical car-building complexity represents tremendous cost savings.

Go To School On This:
To have superior process capability, it's necessary to be good at all elements of the process. Sure, you may be better at some than at others, but to be good at one thing only isn't sufficient for a multi-step process.

Imagine: Not only will they be undeniably reliable, they'll look good, too.

Shunsaku Kodama, chief exterior designer, Toyota Motor Corp. Design Division Two, is the lead exterior designer for the tC. In 1999, he spent a year studying at the Instituto D'Arte Applicata e Design in Turin, Italy. Kodama, who joined Toyota in 1992 after receiving his degree in industrial design from Chiba University, is among the new group of designers for Toyota that are diligently working to change the face of the company. Although the vehicle manufacturer has been derided for creating "appliances"—- i.e., visually bland products that work with the reliability of something from Maytag—that charge will be giving way if Kodama and his colleagues get their way. And although Toyota is a big corporation, with lots of rules and regulations and bureaucracy like any big corporation, chances are Kodama and his peers will.


Presumably, Kodama's European background worked in his favor in his working on the tC. Farley stresses that the target of the coupe isn't represented by the Asian cars that are often modified by tuners, but, rather, vehicles like the BMW 3 and the Mercedes C. Gen Y is nothing if not picky—and interested in luxury cues, even if those go well beyond their means: "This is a group with luxury-car aspirations and a subcompact budget," Farley says, adding, "Their aspirations tend to focus on expensive European coupes that are defined as much by their timeless design as by their performance." So Kodama had his work cut out for him. (It is worth noting that the other two Scion models, the xA and xB are essentially slightly modified variants of existing Japan market vehicles, the ist and the bB, respectively. The tC, while based on the Caldina platform, shares no sheet metal with that car. In fact, although this is a minor aspect of the car, according to Paul Williamsen, product education manager, University of Toyota, the steel stamping used for the trunk is designed so that the only kind of license plate that can be accommodated is an American plate.) There are European cues like the overall smooth arch from the front of the vehicle to the short decklid to the integration of side marker lights in the side mirrors. The interior fit, finish and materials—shutter-type air vents that are flush with the IP surface; a rich-looking grain texture on the dash and door panels; a metal-look cover for the audio head unit; a bona fide cast aluminum knob for the climate control system—are analogous to what would be expected in a VW, Audi or BMW vehicle.

Kodama, who lives in Nagoya, commutes by car to his job in Toyota City. It's about a one-hour drive. He doesn't, however, drive a Toyota product. It's an Alfa Romeo 156. Things are clearly changing at Toyota.

Go To School On This:

Things that are solid don't necessarily have to be unimaginative. But sometimes to achieve things that exhibit imagination it's necessary to find people who are willing to do things that fall outside the norm.






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