The fourth-generation Toyota Prius is manufactured at the company’s Tsutsumi plant, a few kilometres south-east of Nagoya, around 100 minutes from Tokyo by Shinkansen bullet train. From Tsutsumi’s viewing gantries, two production lines stretch away into the distance. These halls house the trim workshop. Here, completed body shells roll in, are divested of their doors (which make their way in pairs along a separate line) and the interior, hybrid system, dashboard and seats are installed. The factory, which has been making Priuses since 2003, produces 430,000 cars a year. From 6.30am to 1am, it can turn out a Prius every minute.
This is the Toyota Production System (TPS) at work, a fabled refinement that funnels the immense complexity of car-making into a series of simple stages. Each step is serviced using the just-in-time manufacturing process by the requisite parts supplier. The system is controlled by the workers themselves, who have autonomy over stopping and starting the line to resolve issues.