In recent years Toyota South Africa Motors (TSAM) have invested R6.5 billion into production at their Prospecton plant in KwaZulu-Natal. R2.6 Billion of this bill has gone into the all-new Corolla Cross hybrid electric production line.  Automotive Refinisher were fortunate enough to witness the ribbon cutting ceremony at their grand opening where President Cyril Ramaphosa and Toyota CEO Andrew Kirby addressed plant employees and media.  

With Toyota first establishing itself on the African continent some 60 years ago, the growth of the brand has been significant with the local production of the Hilux, Fortuner, Corolla Quest and Hi-Ace models and now the Corolla Cross New Energy line. The new hybrid electric production line is based on the acclaimed Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform and as of August this year, 32 Toyota and Lexus models are using this platform which now accounts for approximately 70% of global Toyota sales. From a marketing perspective, the new Corolla Cross will be produced in both right- and left-hand drive variants and will be exported to more than 40 countries in Africa.

Another significant focus in establishing the new production line was to maximise the local content for this model which resulted in the localisation of 621 parts with 56 local suppliers – 16 of which are black-owned. TSAM has also onboarded five new Tier-1 suppliers (all black-owned) and 12 new Tier-2/3 suppliers. The economic contribution with TSAM’s local suppliers for this project is over R1.4 billion per annum.  The R2.6 billion investment has generated a total of 575 new jobs at the TSAM plant whilst over 1 200 direct jobs were created in the component supply base. 

Visiting the plant, it was great to see the level of pride and enthusiasm of  TSAM’s employees along the hybrid line, with the President even commenting how interesting it was to see the number of female engineers employed along the production line. These line engineers explained their duties from quality controlling to daily assembly and praised the experience and learning that Toyota SA had invested in them as they all had been employed for over 10 years with the company.

After the body and shell construction in body in white (BIW) exits the Corolla Cross paint shop, the shell enters the first of two chassis lines where the sub-assembly of axles, exhausts, catalytic converters and drivetrains are joined to the chassis. From there the Corolla Cross enters two final trim lines where interiors, hybrid batteries and safety systems are installed.  The vehicle is then sent through two final lines where it gets dressed with doors and final accessories. Quality control checks are monitored throughout the production process with each procedure taking 3.8-minutes before moving onto the next stage of completion.

One of the Corolla Cross’s innovations which struck me was the new bumper design. It is made up of four separate injection moulds, which means that parts of the new Corolla Cross bumper can be replaced instead of having to order an entirely new single unit. This makes it much more cost effective to repair as you can just replace the area of the bumper which has been damaged. 

The incredibly organised team and surgically clean environment of the line allows for “just in time” delivery of each of Corolla Cross’s components every step of the way, ensuring seamlessly production of their current 111 units a day.  With capability of doubling this daily production output, the plant is currently on track to their 30 000 units per annum target. 

Why hybrid is a big deal

The launch of South Africa’s first locally-produced volume hybrid electric vehicle allows accessibility to more South African consumers affording them the opportunity to accelerate their own green objectives whilst establishing TSAM’s long-term sustainability goals as a globally competitive and relevant exporter of new energy vehicles in the South African and African markets.

“We plan to fundamentally change the New Energy Vehicle (NEV) landscape in South Africa from a few hundred NEV’s a year to well over 10 000 units per year,” says Kirby.  His sentiments are echoed by Toshimitsu Imai, General Manager Africa Support Division in Toyota Motor Corporation and Chief Operating Officer at Toyota Tshusho Corporation: “We are trying our best to make a significant contribution to reduce carbon emissions. We are currently proposing hybrid technology for South Africa as it is important for local vehicles to have realistic ranges when talking mileage.”  

As a final step towards carbon neutrality, TSAM is investigating ways to eliminate or off-set the balance of its carbon emissions, especially those originating from the use of natural gas in its production processes. The company plans to invest over R2 billion to realise these goals in the next seven years.

“This isn’t just limited to reducing vehicle emissions; our activities span the entire value chain, which includes our suppliers, manufacturing facilities, offices, parts warehouse as well as our dealer network. For example, since 2006 we have reduced our total factory carbon emissions by 34%, improved our energy efficiency by 29% and have already achieved carbon neutrality at our Hino manufacturing facility at some of our other office sites… In fact, we are targeting to be 100% reliant on renewable energy by 2028,” concluded Kirby.