Q&A with Mike Sweers, Toyota Chief Engineer for Tundra and Tacoma
At the 2013 Chicago Auto Show, we were able to jump into a group of reporters interviewing Mike Sweers, Toyota’s Chief Engineer. Here is what we were able to capture.
Mr. Sweers grew up in Michigan on a farm using trucks and has been around them all his life. It is interesting how bright and young he is compared with the much older faces that GM, Ford and Dodge seem to have. This Q&A is quite long, but a great read.
Q: (Other reporter) What’s your take on Nissan saying sales are moving more towards fleet and away from consumer?
We really don’t play in the fleet market and we base most of our sales on retail sales and satisfying that retail customer. I believe that side of the market will improve because there is a lot of pent up demand. We are even seeing that in the retail market, people have held onto trucks longer than they have. We are already seeing that, last month truck sales were up 30 percent.
We believe that 1.8 million (units) sold in the half-ton market isn’t unreasonable. Were comfortable with that, we would like to increase our market share, but quite honestly we are limited by capacity. If we can keep the plant at 100% capacity and have the best truck on the market, we will be satisfied.
Q: (responds to questioning about ¾ ton and why if it doesn’t affect CAFÉ standards, why doesn’t Toyota build them)
Quite honestly, we don’t have the capacity to build more trucks. The truck capacity in San Antonio is 250,000 at full capacity. I would love to have more capacity, it is a good problem to have (laughter). But, it allows us to really focus on satisfying our customers. We aren’t trying to be everything to everybody. If you look some of our styling especially on premium grades, it is polarizing. It is a love/hate that is by design. The person who likes the Platinum doesn’t like the 1794.
Q: Could we be looking at a Hybrid?
I can’t speak to future powertrain.
Q: You did sign an agreement with Ford, would you have to adjust the chassis?
Again, I can’t speak to future powertrains, but we might have something.
Q: Mike, are the rust issues done with this truck?
The rust issues were a supplier issue and yes, we have a different supplier. And we have increased the overall corrosion to what we believe is the best from a durability stand point. Again, we had a supplier quality issue, unfortunately. We caught the issue and it has been fixed.
And I have to say, I think, when you look at what Toyota has done, when we found out we had corrosion issues, we made sure we satisfied customers. Again, durability is one of our foundations, we went back and made sure those customers were satisfied by either replacing frames or replacing trucks. It’s an unfortunate situation. We try to make sure we are good partners with our suppliers and support our supplies, but in this case we had an unfortunate situation.
Q: (other reporter and I “discussing” past rust issues, I bring up the bed bolt rust)
On the bed bolt rust issue, we had the same corrosion everybody else did. We changed the coating on our bolts to a 20-year protection cast corrosion treatment.
Part of the corrosion especially with fasteners is with the elimination of the heavy metals. We can’t use Chromate anymore which was the main corrosion element in fasteners.
Q: What’s your take on the bed bounce issue; do you think this truck rides better?
The choppy ride in itself, yes it does. We made some improvements. We tuned the suspension. Is our choppy ride completely gone? No it is natural part of a truck. Our competitors have a choppy ride as well.
Q. How does the ride compare to competitors?
I think this truck is better than maybe the #1 selling truck. They changed their calibration and tuned suspension. Not sure why they did, but they did. We added other features like the Aero-Fins stabilizers (located on rear tail light and mirrors). They don’t look like much, but they are really quite surprising. They are just these little small wings that are on there. They look great in the wind tunnel. But, when you actually put them on and start driving more than 45mph you really start noticing.
What it does is it creates turbulence alongside the truck and it helps with straight line stability of the truck itself. The air is pushing and instead of becoming detached from the truck, it is pulling air alongside the truck and it helps stabilize the front. The ones on the back creates a downdraft which helps with the choppy ride as well.
Q: On the hood raise did you have to compact anything or was that for cosmetics?
Q: Have you changed the rear-end at all? (Limited Slip)
No, we have not changed the limited slip at all. We have done a lot of driving of other trucks. Quite honestly, you’d be surprised what this truck can do. When you talk about changing rear-end I have a 10.5 axle on it, that’s what our competitors have on their ¾ and 1-ton trucks. That helps with that SAE J2807 standard and gives us that durability that we are trying to promote.
Q: (Another reporter question) Other truck manufactures aren’t up to SAE J2807 standard yet?
It’s a mystery to us. All major OEM’s participated in creating that standard. If you look at any manufacture in North America and some of the foreign producers all participating in the writing in that standard. But, we are the only ones since 2007 that complied with the standard.
I can speculate why that is. I can’t tell you why they are trying to create their own standard.
When we adapted the standard our towing went down a few hundred pounds. With this truck, we got that back. Our speculation is that the other players in the market will go down a lot more than just a few hundred pounds.
Our goal is to make sure we are really satisfying the customer and we are giving the customer what we say we are giving them. So, they walk away satisfied.
I don’t have a lot of complaints about you promised me this fuel economy and I’m getting this fuel economy. We focus on combined fuel economy. When we market our vehicles, test our vehicles, certify our vehicles, we are always talking real-world fuel economy. We are probably under-promising and over delivering. But, a lot of our customers do the opposite. Their focus is on highway. Well, if you only drive highway and EPA cycle then fabulous you can probably hit that. But, what we are seeing in the market right now is a lot of complaints especially with a lot of these smaller displacement engines. You promised me this and I am not getting that at all. You promised me 21 and I’m getting 15. There is a big difference there and I paid a $1,000 more for this engine.
We want to make sure that we are actually delivering what we are promising. That is one of the reasons we focused on the new towing standard. When the customer hooks us up and they read through our owner’s manual, its not like well you said I was going to tow 11,100, but by the time I make all the deductions I have to make, I’m only towing 7,100. When you read our brochure, we say here are your deductions and we say you can tow this amount, you can tow this amount.
You don’t have to sit there and do a lot of fuzzy math to get there.
Q: (on why no engine change)
People ask us why don’t you change your engine. We have a fabulous engine, truly fabulous. It has all the power that you need.
(Also, he alludes to the engine and transmission durability when completing J2807 testing). Frankly, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Q: What’s your take on the new aerodynamic items? Like Ram’s Active Grille Shutters or Ford’s Active Wheel Shutters?
The wheel shutters are a great, nifty concept. On a truck, I don’t know how you make those things work. The first time, I take that off-road and get in the mud, I would love to see those things close.
Yes, there are a lot of things we could do on a truck to improve aerodynamics. Trucks are a little bit difficult. You have a certain amount of coefficient drag you will have with a large vehicle you are taking down the road. Ram really has put some unique technology in there. I won’t say any of it is that new. But, they have gone ahead and offered the package. There difficulty is return on investment. Everybody including us have tried high-fuel economy vehicle packages and offered them to customers, but none of them has ever succeeded. They haven’t lasted long enough. Ram has done that, but is somebody on a V-6 truck willing pay extra on that truck to get a few more miles per gallon.
Truck customers are very conservative and detail oriented. They are looking for return on investment. If you are going to charge me x amount of money, I expect this amount of return. That’s what we are finding. We are struggling with how much do you put into it and how much is the customer willing to pay. Active grille shutters are not cheap. That air suspension is a great, great image for it, but it’s not cheap. Personally, we have looked into them and we are a little concerned with the durability of them especially when you get into an off-road situation.
But, some of the other treatment it is responsible and we have some of that on our front end. But, again how to meet the customer’s requirements when you start trying to lower that truck down and you lose that approach and departure angles. How do you meet the customer’s real requests for the truck without taking that type of stuff off when you are really taxing the truck in a non-highway situation.
Quick translation: the aerodynamic front ends of say the new GM twins could easily tear off when off-road. How is that meeting the customer’s requirements for durability?
Q: How nervous were you with the Tundra Endeavour Project?
Not at all, we tested it twice. I knew it was going to work (laughter).
Q: (other reporter) That picture with the drive-shaft turning that is the most of truth isn’t it?
That is the moment of truth. Quite honestly, at our first test, we had cameras down there. When you see the prop shaft come up and you see the transmission come up. Can the truck pull it? Yep, we had enough power to tow it. The universal joint though that got a little bit of the heart pumping for me.
Q: Just getting it started, isn’t that the big thing?
We pulled 300,000lbs in testing. Yeah, getting that load started and breaking that rolling resistance on the tires of that tow and the trailer vehicles, it takes quite a bit.
Q: (other reporter) On the integrated trailer brake, have you adjusted your E over H (deals with boat trailers with electric brakes)?
No, we have not. We only gone with electrical brakes on that. The problem is depending on the trailer, we have a hard time trying to handle that hydraulic system because each manufacture has a little bit different (setup).
Electric brakes are a different animal because there are essentially three manufactures. Hydraulic, we don’t have the same consistency. But, from the electric brakes stand point, we have tested ours and we are working with a company to make sure ours is tied into the vehicle properly. We don’t have any unsettling situations. It has taken us a little longer to get there. But, again, we want to make sure that our system works, works 100% of the time and is save for our customers always.
I have personally driven all the aftermarket systems both the correct loaded condition and offset loading to create sway and the overloaded condition because to be quite honest, truck customers overload their trucks. All the time.
Q: Right because nobody looks at that manual before they tow?
Q: And because everybody is 150lbs driving that truck (like the “other guys towing rating)?
Q: Did you guys go back into your workshop and redo your math numbers to get more towing numbers like the other guys magically do?
Actually, the recalculation of margin we didn’t do. We did increase our towing numbers, we didn’t go back and recalculate our margin. Recalculation of margin is a great term that used to change your brochure.
Q: We call it fuzzy math because all of sudden the new truck comes out and it can tow a lot more.
It is a little interesting and that is why the J2807 exists. It supposed to fix that issue, but if people aren’t participating in it, it has no meaning.
Q: (other reporter) It’s all voluntary? It’s not federally mandated?
Quite honestly, when you start talking about customer safety, it is important. Because you do have people overloading their vehicles and understanding truly what I can tow.
Again, do they go through their owner’s manual and saying I have to take this deduction. No, they are thinking in the brochure or commercial I can tow 11,100. And I can guarantee that if you put 11,100 behind some of those vehicles, it would be concerning.
What do you think? Insightful or full of spin?
Filed Under: TundraHeadquarters.com