Toyota gives customer-driven design the green light

No readers like this yet.
An old car

A few weeks ago, Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst wrote an article for BusinessWeek suggesting that Toyota might benefit from doing things the open source way when it comes to building the software inside its automobiles.

From Jim's article:

Open source is about leveraging the power of participation to solve complex problems such as manufacturing, health care, and government. This advantage is why numerous 21st century successes—from Google to Facebook to Wikipedia—are all based on open-source software and principles. It may also be how Toyota can improve its vehicles and ultimately regain consumer trust.

Toyota may be listening.

Last week, Associated Press reported that Toyota has opened a new Design Quality Innovation Division. The new group will be led by Kiyotaka Ise, formerly of Toyota's Lexus subsidiary, and will be tasked with more quickly reflecting customer feedback in automobile design.

I'm a believer in Toyota. My first car was a Toyota, and I drive one today. To me, Toyota has long been a company doing things the open source way in many parts of the business.

For example, Toyota has long leveraged the power of participation of employees through its philosophy of Kaizen, which anyone who has ever gone to business school will wax glowingly about for hours at a time.

Perhaps this new division will be the next step beyond employee-driven innovation. What great thing could Toyota do if it involved a concerned community of Toyota fans like myself in the design process? Perhaps this new division will even take Jim Whitehurst's advice and join a broader open source community of developers to design the software in the automobiles.

One way or another, it's clear this is a positive (and necessary) step. It'll be interesting to watch and see what happens next. If you have thoughts or advice for Toyota on how to implement this new strategy, please feel free to add them below.


User profile image.
Chris Grams is the Head of Marketing at Tidelift and author of The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Building Successful Brands in a Digital World. Twitter LinkedIn Email: chris(at)


I first met Toyota engineers back in 1996 when I was part of Cygnus Solutions, selling GNU compiler and debugger support. They mightily impressed me with the story of how they created the SULEV (the super ultra-low emission vehicle) by understanding the precise origin of NxOy compounds and designing their engine control software to eliminate it. They showed me a graph of what an unmanaged engine emits (orders of magnitude higher than SULEV), how Detroit continued to lobby the US Congress to do nothing to lower the allowable limits, and why it was that Toyota, following a belief of continuous daily improvement could not NOT make this obvious improvement to their engines.

I am eager to see Toyota confront this challenge and to prevail using every resource available to achieve continuous daily improvement. And I think it is to their credit that they are willing to seek outside assistance for problems that are orders of magnitude more complex than anything Deming had contemplated back in the 1950s (such as the problem of proof-reading hundreds of millions of lines of software code).

Great news!

Good article, great concept.
People working together, planners, producers and
purchasers = better products, happy customers.

@Michael Great quote, just right for the times
we live in.

Great strategy for Toyota to pursue. They have long known the value of multiplying the intelligence of people by allowing them to collaborate and make improvement suggestions.

This open innovation approach will yield dividends quick.

George Rathbun
CEO <a href="">INCENT Solutions</a>

I couldn't have expected less from Toyota, it's a real leader inside the auto industry and it almost dictates the new trends. I am thrilled to hear about the new customer experience with Toyota but until I actually have money to afford a car like this I'll have to rely on <a rel="follow" href="">discount Land Rover parts</a> to maintain and drive my current car.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.