John M. Jula, executive engineer/program manager, Development Planning & Operations, Toyota Technical Center U.S.A. (TTC; Ann Arbor, MI), notes that prior to being assigned to the Sienna program-for which he manages TTC's engineering involvement (concept through launch), which includes managing internal engineering, coordinating supplier interfaces, and managing the overall project-he was general manager of something called "Engineering Design IV."
That meant that Jula
concentrated on interiors.Instrument panels.Consoles.Restraints.And seats.Especially seats.Jula recalls that he
was always developing clever folding seating mechanisms for various Toyota vehicles.And perhaps as one of those cases of "be careful of what you wish for," Jula
found himself pondering and being responsible for the 2004 Sienna seating.
spent time sitting in the passenger seat to Yokoya during this journey.
is a big man, a robust man. Yokoya is comparatively diminutive.Clearly, there would be a concern vis-à-vis the seats after all of the hours on the road.
As the minivan as a class of vehicles is essentially one designed for families, the need to have an economical product (or at least one with a competitive price point) is essential.With the increased number of vehicles in the category, and with a well-regarded veteran like the Chrysler Town & Country and the highly demanded current-generation Honda Odyssey in the class, what Toyota
would do to create a new Sienna was of some concern within the company.Jula
says that during the development process for what they intended to be "the benchmark American minivan," affordability presented the primary challenge.
Although "affordability" is sometimes code for "decontenting" (or at least the rationale for doing that), so far as they were concerned, that couldn't be the case if they were, in fact, to create what could be considered to be a new standard in the category.Jula explains that he and his colleagues were working toward "setting a new standard in product quality, content and performance."
Yet there was that issue of cost: You can more readily achieve those things by simply adding expense, but that was not to be.So they concluded that they would need to find "new engineering efficiencies."They set about on a program that, as he
puts it, meant "rethinking and refining the entire development and manufacturing process."The goal was to reduce costs without sacrificing the quality, content and performance.
And an important aspect was the seats."Nowhere were we more indulgent with our budget than in the seat design," Jula says. (Before joining TTC in 1996, Jula was director of Engineering-Interiors at Johnson Controls, where he worked on programs including the interior development for the Mercedes SUV.) Amplifying that, he remarks, "The Sienna seat-set was one of a handful of critical features where we said, ‘Damn the cost, let's make it the best we can-and find a way to offset the extravagance along the way.'"
explains that what this means is that, "Adhesives have more time to set-up; final fit-and-finish is improved; total assembly time is reduced; worker fatigue and incidence of injury are reduced; and costs are reduced.
In fact, Jula
says that because the goal was zero engineering changes after the production drawings were realized, not only was there extensive cross-functional engineering during the program, but the vehicle was essentially "assembled" in digital form before prototype parts were produced. (For those counting: it was a 22-month program.) What the digital processing meant, in part:
: "The level of comfort and convenience provided by car seats can be gauged on a spectrum that ranges from ‘showroom' at the bottom to ‘long term' at the top.
This relates to Jula's
aforementioned design of folding mechanisms.The Sienna can be configured as a seven- (standard) or eight-passenger vehicle (with two people in the front, two or three in the middle row, and three in the third row).