TOYOTATIMES

From Past to Future – Vision for a Grand Prototype City (Part I)

FROM THE EDITOR 2021.03.18

INDEX

In January 2020, President Akio Toyoda announced the concept for Woven City, a prototype city of the future, at CES in Las Vegas. Despite the unforeseen outbreak of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the project has proceeded as planned, with the groundbreaking ceremony on February 23, 2021, little more than a year after the announcement.

This historic plant has been closed, to be reborn as Toyota’s city of the future. The groundbreaking ceremony marked both the end of an era and the dawn of a new age.

New reporter Kyonosuke Morita makes his debut!

“We must have an obsession for the truth. If we can figure out the truth, I think we’ll see more interesting things in the future.”

These were the enthusiastic comments of Editor-in-Chief Kagawa when Toyota Times launched in 2019. True to his word, time and again Kagawa has given his all to pursuing the truth at Toyota.

The spirit embodied by Toyota Times and its Editor-in-Chief has resonated with one newcomer eager to share in this vision for the future. His name is Kyonosuke Morita.

As an announcer for a TV station in Tokyo, Morita enjoyed a splendid career across a wide range of programs, from news to sports, including a stint in New York. During his time in the news business, Morita began to take an interest in Toyota.

Upon finally joining the company in 2021, for his reporting debut, Morita set foot on the Higashi-Fuji site alongside the Editor-in-Chief, under by a clear blue sky and the snowcapped figure of Mt. Fuji.

Editor-in-Chief Kagawa&New reporter Kyonosuke Morita

“I’m Kyonosuke Morita, a new reporter of Toyota Times.” The flawless introduction was everything you’d expect from a former TV announcer – and immediately picked apart by the Editor-in-Chief.

The Toyota Times style of reporting involves filming yourself with a handheld camera, which requires not only fluent delivery, but also a constant awareness of how to capture the best angles and create impact for viewers. Morita continued his report with detailed coaching from the Editor-in-Chief – “That sign is going to look tiny, do it more like this!”

We want to weave the Higashi-Fuji Plant’s history into the future of this city

The duo managed to make their way inside the venue for the groundbreaking ceremony. This Shinto ritual is a prayer for permission and protection from local deities to ensure that construction is carried out safely.

The solemn proceedings were overseen by invited guests, including Heita Kawakatsu, Governor of Shizuoka Prefecture, and Kenji Takamura, Mayor of Susono City, along with President Akio Toyoda, Woven Planet Holdings CEO James Kuffner, TMEJ President Kazuhiro Miyauchi, and others involved in the project.

In these dignified surroundings, Akio also made a speech, sharing his gratitude for local support before talking passionately about the plant and its contributions to Toyota in this region.

the groundbreaking ceremony
Akio Toyoda

On December 9, 2020, the Higashi-Fuji Plant of Toyota Motor East Japan drew its history to a close, after 53 years of producing vehicles with the support of the community.

In total, 7,000 members have worked here at the plant, leaving as many as 14 million footprints in this place every day.

This plant produced 7.52 million vehicles, in great variety, from the Toyota Century to JPN Taxi. I believe it was a driving force for motorization in Japan, supporting people’s daily lives and promoting a car culture.

the Higashi-Fuji Plant of Toyota Motor East Japan

He also pledged to pass on the kaizen DNA and “weave the history of Higashi-Fuji Plant into the future of this city”. Akio’s words and earnest expression seemed to convey the weight of the Higashi-Fuji Plant's history, along with his determination and resolve to make it part of the future.

After the ceremony, the pair’s attempt to interview Akio ended in disappointment as the president disappeared in the opposite direction.

Today is the day

Recovering from their setback, the team succeeded in getting an interview with Woven Planet Holdings CEO James Kuffner. The CEO and Editor-in-Chief greeted each other like old friends, having met when Toyota Times reported on automated driving technology at TRI-AD, the forerunner of Woven Planet Holdings.

As soon as Morita was introduced, he began to interview Kuffner in English, feeling right at home after his time in New York. Editor-in-Chief Kagawa looked on with mixed feelings – “Can’t help but feel left behind.”

Woven Planet Holdings CEO James Kuffner

So what kind of company is Woven Planet Holdings? It forms part of a new structure announced in July 2020 by TRI-AD, which had been engaged in developing and implementing automated driving technology.

Under this new arrangement begun in January 2021, the holding company Woven Planet Holdings oversees three operating companies – Woven Core, involved mainly in automated driving technology, Woven Alpha, which is in charge of Woven City and other new business areas for Toyota, and Woven Capital, which will strategically invest in a wide range of partners.

Organization chart of Woven Planet Holdings

Eschewing the Toyota name, this new structure explores the future of happiness from a broader planet-wide perspective. The company is led by CEO Kuffner, who spoke about his strong desire to begin working towards the future.

Woven Planet Holdings CEO James Kuffner

Morita:
Construction finally begins. How do you feel about it?

Kuffner:
The announcement at CES was really just the beginning of starting this project and then we had to hire many people, build the team and organize, and get all of the architecture and designs... Today is the day.

Morita:
Toyota’s plant has a long history on this site. Do you have any words to share with the employees who worked here all those years?

Kuffner:
This is a special place because the TMEJ factory has been employing citizens and building products for our customers for over 53 years. Honestly, the people who have built so many products over so many years here at this place are the co-founders of Woven City, and their spirit and their hard work is the reason we can create it.

I feel deeply grateful for the many generations of employees and families who have spent so much time and effort to build great value, and because of their success, we have a chance to build something special right here.

The Higashi-Fuji Plant’s contribution to Toyota

The history of the Higashi-Fuji Plant

The history of the Higashi-Fuji Plant came to a close on December 9, 2020. The next day, the final JPN Taxi, bearing the message ‘Thank you for everything’, was seen off by a crowd of cheering employees.

This plant produced 7.52 million vehicles, including the Toyota Sports 800, Mark II, Corolla Levin/Sprinter Trueno, Crown, Century, and JPN Taxi. In the words of Akio, these cars were truly “a driving force for motorization in Japan”.

the Higashi-Fuji Plant
the Higashi-Fuji Plant

The Toyota Times team was shown around the plant by Takeshi Shirane, TMEJ’s Chairman of the Board, Shigezou Abe, the plant’s General Manager, and Toshiya Matsuoka from the Integration Center Administration Department, who is in charge of the plant’s closure.

Just three months earlier, the space had been filled with the sounds of machinery and the bustle of people and robots; today, most of the equipment has been removed and the facility stands in silence, an empty shell. A picture of the sea, painted by someone who worked on the Century for the benefit of children who came on school tours, is a vestige of the plant in its heyday.

With a sense of nostalgia, the three guides recounted episodes that had taken place throughout the plant. Their faces hinted at the mix of emotions brought about by the plant’s closure.

Kagawa:
This must be rather bittersweet for you.

Matsuoka:
It really is. I worked in maintenance, so there are countless stories in this place. Yes, it really is sad to see it go.

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