More MBS Coverage TRAVERSE CITY, MI – A whopping 144% increase in sales of the new '05 Toyota Avalon is further validation of Toyota Motor Corp.'s practice of using common platforms to create unique new products, says the engineer behind the program.

Seiya Nakao, Toyota Technical Center U.S.A. Inc. executive chief engineer-Avalon, Solara, Sienna, is pleased with the reception the flagship Avalon has received since it went on sale in January.

The car rides on the same K platform that underpins the popular Camry, Solara coupe, Sienna minivan and Highlander cross/utility vehicle.

Nakao estimates 70%-80% of the underbody of the Avalon is shared with the Camry, but the engine is new and the top hat completely different.

Seiya Nakao, executive chief engineer-Avalon, Solara, Sienna

By maintaining the basic platform elements, little modification is required for its manufacture, and the auto maker can instill common practices in plants worldwide, including Toyota Motor Mfg. KY, where the Avalon is built.

It makes sense for Toyota, Nakao says. He cannot say how much the shared-platform approach saves the auto maker, but tells Ward's to attempt to introduce a new platform takes two years and represents “enormous expense.”

He says it is a balancing act in deciding when and what to change and when to concentrate, instead, on further refining an existing platform or product.

The '05 Avalon was developed at TTC in 18 months, compared with the '00 that took 29.5 months. Much care was taken to embed it with the characteristics of a premium sedan, Nakao says at the Management Briefing Seminars here.

That includes more room, especially for rear passengers, who gain an industry-first flat floor and reclining seat, as well as a smoother and quieter ride.

While Toyota collects data on what customers want, the final decisions fall to the chief engineer. The auto maker entrusts this one person with integration of elements of the vehicle and its manufacture for a smooth execution of his final vision.

Nakao declines to confirm future candidates for hybrids from the K platform.

apriddle@primediabusiness.com