TRAVERSE CITY, MI – The Americanization of Toyota Motor Corp. goes beyond the idea of executives such as Norm Bafunno, the first non-Japanese president of Toyota Motor Mfg. Indiana Inc. It also includes a growing emphasis on regionalization and local plant autonomy.

When the Camry and Corolla sedans first were manufactured in the U.S., the mother plant that trained American workers was in Japan. But when Toyota began making the Tundra and Tacoma pickups in Texas, the mother plant was Indiana, says Bafunno, because the vehicles are regional, not made or sold in Japan.

In North America, Toyota now has 13 plants that are linked together to share manufacturing questions and practices through formal clubs that meet online from time to time. Toyota has nine shops within a plant covering welding, quality and painting, and each metric has a vice president charged with leading the club meetings.

The plants also are linked through the North America Production Support Center in Kentucky, which cascades new practices to the 13 plants.

Having similar good practices is important to handling new model changes. Indiana, for example, recently added the unibody Highlander cross/utility vehicle to the same assembly line that makes the body-on-frame Sequoia SUV, and it builds the ’11 Sienna minivan, also a unibody.

An element of site preparation is the Shop Self Reliance program, which is aimed at making plants and workers more autonomous, Bafunno says. “Each plant has different needs,” but they all are linked by regular audits of key performance indicators, so it is easy to spot where improvements need to be made and where a plant is performing well.