The 2004 Lexus RX 330 will be the brand's first vehicle built outside of Japan. The award-winning Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada, Inc. (TMMC) assembly plant in Cambridge, Ontario, and its team members have been prepared to match the quality standards established at the Kyushu, Japan, plant where some RX 330 models will continue to be built. Production at the Canadian facility will begin in September 2003.
The RX 330 succeeds the RX 300, the first crossover-based luxury-utility vehicle and the best-selling model in its segment. The new RX 330 is expected to continue as the brand's top-volume model.
"The TMMC plant has been building vehicles since 1988, and the workforce there is as passionate about pursuing perfection as their colleagues in Japan," said Denny Clements, Lexus group vice president and general manager. "Their focus is craftsmanship, not manufacturing."
The pilot team has spent two years working on the RX 330 project, including benchmarking the Kyushu plant. Hundreds of TMMC team members received special training at Kyushu, including tearing down a new RX to do a complete analysis of the body panel gap dimensions and paint.
TMMC honed the production process using a 3D computer tool called digital analysis to "assemble" a virtual RX 330. Engineers in Kyushu and Canada both were able to watch the process and observe if the TMMC plant presented any kind of assembly line interference and to determine if special tools would be required. This phase of development even took into account the larger size of the average Canadian team member compared to the Lexus team members in Japan.
The TMMC plant has been enhanced in preparation for RX 330 production, adding exclusive welding and paint shops for the Lexus model. Only the plastics and stamping shops are shared with Toyota models. The TMMC welding shop is equipped with a laser measurement system that checks some 700 points on the vehicle for body panel alignment.
The new paint shop was designed to be among the most environmentally conscious. It features its own climate control system, glass walls and zero-dust, high-efficiency ovens. A new water-based paint system uses individual cartridges for each color, and these don't need to be cleaned out between color changes.
The team members in the paint shop are truly passionate about their craft and have visited competitors' dealerships to inspect paint and even borrowed cars to examine them under the paint shop's lights.
"Independent organizations repeatedly judged the original RX model as the highest-quality vehicle in its segment, and we're fully confident that the North American-built RX 330 can achieve that standard of excellence, as well," said Ray Tanguay, president of TMMC.
The Cambridge plant has always applied high standards. Since the facility opened 12 years ago it has earned seven J.D. Power and Associates awards for Initial Plant Quality - four of which were Gold Plant awards.
The TMMC plant is flexibly configured to build several different models, including the Toyota Corolla and Matrix. Approximately 60,000 units of the plant's annual 250,000 vehicle capacity, will come from RX 330 production. Employment at the Canadian facility is about 3,500 people. To make room for the Lexus RX 330, assembly of the Toyota Solara will move to the Georgetown, Ky., plant, and assembly of the Sienna minivan will move from Georgetown to the Princeton, Ind., plant.