Greetings from Japan. Today I went on a tour of the LFA carbonfiber and assembly facilities near the Motomachi plant in Toyota City. I was told by Lexus USA only that I was going to be the first USA-based LFA buyer to take the tour, but it turns out I was actually the first non-internal LFA buyer in the world to visit the LFA production facilities (Javier Quiros visited sometime in December).
As mentioned in the thread title, photos were unfortunately not allowed so I have nothing to share in that regard. Hopefully my report can give some idea of what the tour was like.
The tour was led by LFA production manager Shigeru Yamanaka. Accompanying him was LFA chief engineer Haruhiko Tanahashi and a Toyota-supplied translator. Having the chief engineer as part of the experience was a great honor. Despite his numerous interviews in magazines like evo, the plastering of his quotes all over LFA marketing fluff like on the walls at Lexus Park Lane in London, and his recent nomination for Top Gear’s Man of the Year award, he seemed surprised that I was aware of who he was.
Tanahashi was very amusing on the tour – he fills the role of chief engineer and primary brain trust of the LFA quite well. He didn’t speak much English but would interrupt the tour from time to time to point out particularly interesting aspects of the production process or supply technical terms that were difficult to translate, and would also sometimes take over the tour to lead us himself, including on multiple occasions having us go right onto the assembly line next to LFA workers to examine certain aspects of the production process (this would cause the plant manager to run off in a hurry to grab us hard hats).
Before getting on to some of the details, the best aspect of the tour was that the production areas were incredibly intimate. As previously mentioned everything was up close and personal. Because most of the assembly is done by hand, there is very little machinery and therefore the facilities are very quiet. One of the biggest complaints I’ve heard from people who have done factory tours or delivery programs for their vehicles is that the experiences are far too commercialized and uninvolving, and the LFA tour certainly was a big contrast to that.
The first area on the tour was the carbonfiber production facility. This includes the massive carbonfiber weaving loom
that we’ve seen videos of. There are actually three main types of CFRP used in the LFA (the construction of the A pillar differs significantly from, say, the CFRP used for the cabin floor) each with its own production method so we got a walkthrough of the production process of each type, and also witnessed workers molding certain parts of the CFRP into final form. Some of the parts are machine-molded in gigantic temperature and pressure-controlled units that look like an enormous hyperbaric chamber.
We got to examine some of the production samples and carbonfiber truly is amazing. The entire A pillar weighed only a few pounds – it was easy to pick up even with one arm. After the carbonfiber part of the chassis is put together, the aluminum subframes are then attached and the entire chassis goes through machine-based strength testing along with extensive examination by a team of engineers before it is sent to the assembly line.
After the structural portion of the chassis is completed and all necessary testing has been done, it still takes about 3 days for vehicle assembly to be completed. This is in stark contrast to other Toyota production facilities, where hundreds of cars per day roll off typical Toyota plants such as in the other facilities at Motomachi. The care that workers put into the LFA is obvious. Every LFA assembly line worker was specially selected and was trained for a full year prior to the commencement of LFA production. Nevertheless, the LFA assembly line is similar in concept to typical vehicle assembly.
After assembly completion, each LFA goes through road tests including a few loops around the tiny test “track” at Motomachi (really just a divided 2-lane road with two loops at the ends), although I was told the LFA does reach speeds in excess of 160mph during the short lap. We did see the track but unfortunately no testing was going on at the time.
The tour ended with a brief Q+A session with Tanahashi and several other Lexus engineers and managers. They also presented me with several gifts including an AutoArt LFA model (the old one, not the new one that hasn’t been officially released yet), which was a nice touch. Toyota was also happy to fulfill my request of a brief tour of one of the assembly lines at Motomachi where the Crown and Mark X among other models are produced.
LFA units 42-59 were in some form of production when I visited. This includes my unit which recently had its structural chassis completed (carbon monocoque and aluminum subframes only) and had just finished machine-based stress testing. Needless to say it was really special to see my LFA in that form, and I feel truly lucky to have visited during my LFA’s production. My LFA is scheduled to go to the assembly line next week and should leave for delivery before the end of the month. Unit 42, a gorgeous white LFA with all-black interior, was actually completed during my tour so I got to be among the first people to hear it fired up in complete form for the first time. After the road testing, a happy buyer should be getting it pretty soon (maybe in the US, since I recall it was LHD).
This of course means that 41 units are already out there. Even discounting those still in testing phase or in transit, I’m amazed we haven’t seen pictures or videos of the ones that have to have been delivered already.
The tour was definitely one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had. I am under the impression that only a handful of other LFA buyers have scheduled tours – I’m sure more will over time as their schedules permit or travel takes them to the region, but it’d be a shame if any LFA buyers don’t make it out to Toyota City. The tour alone is worth a trip to Japan.
Anyway, this post is already far too long. If anyone has any questions I’ll do my best to answer them.