Joining Hands to Map Out the Future of Automobiles Together

Interview with Yumi Otsuka, General Manager of MIRAI Project Dept. ~ Vol. 1

OPEN ROAD INNOVATION REVIEW

Located in Harajuku, the trendy quarter of Tokyo world renowned as a thriving hub of youth culture,
is the Toyota Future Project Office of Toyota Motor Corporation. This is the unit that effectively realized the OPEN ROAD PROJECT.
Day in and day out this office bustles with a steady and highly varied stream of innovative interaction and ideas.
The focus here, surprisingly enough, is not on automobiles themselves, but rather on the future of mobility.
For this report, we spoke with Ms. Yumi Otsuka, the Director and major driving force behind this unique organization,
which at first glance hardly seems to fit the typical Toyota image. We took advantage of that opportunity to inquire about
the Future Project Office itself, as well as Ms. Otsuka’s own personal vision of “open innovation.”
Located in Harajuku, the trendy quarter of Tokyo world renowned as a thriving hub of youth culture, is the Toyota Future Project Office of Toyota Motor Corporation. This is the unit that effectively realized the OPEN ROAD PROJECT. Day in and day out this office bustles with a steady and highly varied stream of innovative interaction and ideas. The focus here, surprisingly enough, is not on automobiles themselves, but rather on the future of mobility. For this report, we spoke with Ms. Yumi Otsuka, the Director and major driving force behind this unique organization, which at first glance hardly seems to fit the typical Toyota image. We took advantage of that opportunity to inquire about the Future Project Office itself, as well as Ms. Otsuka’s own personal vision of “open innovation.”

Thinking hard about the future
to better address industry upheaval

~ How did the Future Project Office get off the ground as a functioning organization?

Over the past few years, we have witnessed a remarkable upheaval in the
environment surrounding automobiles. This includes an increase in persons who do not own cars, advances into the industry by companies lacking ties to the automotive field to date and other changes. Perhaps most pronounced, however, has been the emergence of a shift in customer desires toward more “personalized” qualities. Taking heed of such social shifts, we set out to move from the automobile-focused concepts adopted up to now, expand our perspectives to usher in new ideas and put our heads together with persons from the outside in coming to grips with the sharp changes impacting the industry. With such purposes in mind, the Future Project Office was launched in 2012.

profile_flow_otuka_pcYumi Otsuka
General Manager
MIRAI Project Dept. Product & Business Planning Div.
profile_flow_otuka_spYumi Otsuka
General Manager
MIRAI Project Dept.
Product & Business Planning Div.

Thinking hard about the future to better address industry upheaval

~ How did the Future Project Office get off the ground as a functioning organization?

Over the past few years, we have witnessed a remarkable upheaval in the
environment surrounding automobiles. This includes an increase in persons who do not own cars, advances into the industry by companies lacking ties to the automotive field to date and other changes. Perhaps most pronounced, however, has been the emergence of a shift in customer desires toward more “personalized” qualities. Taking heed of such social shifts, we set out to move from the automobile-focused concepts adopted up to now, expand our perspectives to usher in new ideas and put our heads together with persons from the outside in coming to grips with the sharp changes impacting the industry. With such purposes in mind, the Future Project Office was launched in 2012.

 

img_01_flow_otuka_pcThe Future Project Office is decorated with a “Future Timeline” – a scenario for the years ahead conceived through collaboration with persons from the outside.

Open innovation without vision
is also without meaning

Open innovation without vision is also without meaning

~ Wasn’t it a stiff challenge to spearhead so-called “open innovation” within the Toyota organization?

As I devoted extensive studies to the field of “innovation,” I learned about the “open innovation” approach of sharing and integrating ideas with persons from outside your own company or organization. Yet, even though our Project Office members swapped ideas about the future with persons from various different companies, it proved difficult to evolve the contents of such exchanges into concrete ideas. From around the end of 2014, we commenced studies on the theme of “instilling greater freedom in urban mobilization” – namely, the OPEN ROAD PROJECT. That was instrumental in fostering the vision and momentum to break out of that impasse.

Greater freedom in mobilization
cannot be realized through products alone

Greater freedom in mobilization cannot be realized through products alone

~ How did you actually get the OPEN ROAD PROJECT up and going?

The pivotal trigger was the “i-ROAD” concept car. Although the members of the Future Project Office were inspired by the potential of the i-ROAD, it had yet to reach the stage of actually debuting on the road. As result, we were largely bewildered about how to take the next step. But as the Office continued to accumulate valuable experience in prototyping, we came to realize that the i-ROAD was truly a product tailor made for such work. The plan to initially arrange for customers to test drive the car and provide feedback began in 2014. The first move in that direction generated a hearty response, with the next theme naturally coming to mind as we mapped out a much clearer image of the environment surrounding the i-ROAD. This marked the time when we became aware that “products” alone are not enough, underscoring the critical need to achieve innovation with “service” onboard as well.

img_02_flow_otuka_pcThe Future Project Office, a congregation of persons with wide ranging characters and backgrounds, comprises the very definition of “diversity.”

~ Did you get together with persons from other companies to share ideas about service?

We came to realize just how difficult it is to come up with completely new ideas from scratch by working with those from the outside. I mean, if you went to all the effort of launching 1,000 different projects, some of them would be likely to succeed. But as you can imagine, there’s just not enough time and resources for such an approach. Based on that conclusion, at the Future Project Office we decided to pinpoint the issues that we want to resolve through ideas with service at the core. In that sense, our idea of open innovation is not to cooperate in this or that area simply because it is new. Rather, in gearing up to solve the specific issues that we actually face, we want to team up with the optimum partners to make progress in the right direction. After shifting to that method and mindset, it is my impression that the various initiatives involved in realizing the goals of the OPEN ROAD PROJECT have steadily taken concrete shape.

The Future Project Office is positioned to
contribute on numerous different fronts

The Future Project Office is positioned to contribute on numerous different fronts

~ Going forward, are there any particular ideas that you absolutely want to achieve through the Future Project Office?

Rather than any “particular ideas” as such, I am determined to transform as many ideas as possible into functional form. I say that because there are so many discoveries to be made by simply giving a concept a try. Taking that reality to heart, I want the Office to come up with as many different ideas as we can, regardless of whether they are big or small, while also not tossing out strange or unexpected concepts because they initially appear to be a waste of our energy. In other words, I want to have as many ideas see the light of day as we can. We need to take full advantage of this precious opportunity, which, after all, has only been granted to the Future Project Office.

→ Continue to Vol. 2 of our Interview: “Regardless of how much data is generated, it won’t generate the future”

TEXT BY Ryoko Sugimoto (contributor)
PHOTOGRAPHS BY Tomoyuki Kato

ISSUED : 20 January 2016

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Article Index

Interview with Yumi Otsuka, General Manager of MIRAI Project Dept. ~Vol. 2 Regardless of How Much Data is Generated, it Won’t Generate the Future22 January 2016

Interview with Yumi Otsuka, General Manager of MIRAI Project Dept. ~ Vol. 1 Joining Hands to Map Out the Future of Automobiles Together 20 January 2016

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Article Index

22 January 2016

Interview with Yumi Otsuka, General Manager of MIRAI Project Dept. ~Vol. 2 Regardless of How Much Data is Generated, it Won’t Generate the Future

20 January 2016

Interview with Yumi Otsuka, General Manager of MIRAI Project Dept. ~ Vol. 1 Joining Hands to Map Out the Future of Automobiles Together

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