Battery included: The Auris hybrid's main battery pack, built by a Toyota-Panasonic JV in Japan, goes in on the Derby line
Given the amount of effort Toyota Manufacturing UK (TMUK) has put into adding the hybrid Auris to its product line, would it now now make sense to build the Prius for Europe there as well?
"We'd love to," deputy managing director Tony Walker told just-auto on the sidelines of the additional Auris model's international launch in Spain this week. He stressed there were no specific plans just yet but remained optimistic the plant would at least get to bid for the work should volume rise enough to justify manufacture this side of the world.
Volume of 100,000 units a year is often the global auto industry's kick-in point for a new plant, or a significant expansion - much lower for the CKD kit operation used to supply Prius to China - and Walker indicated that sort of level would be about right.
In any event, given that Toyota aims to launch around 10 hybrids in the early 2010s, and offer hybrids in all ranges in the early 2020s, he'll likely have lots of work to bid for as Toyota slowly rolls this type of vehicle out beyond Japan - Australia, the US and China now build, or at least assemble, the petrol-electric Camry.
Walker is clearly proud of a British factory that is facing challenges as it adjusts to reduced European demand for its Auris and Avensis products, moving to single-line production and shedding, on a voluntary basis, 750 workers by around August this year.
Build quality of the early Auris hybrids was first class with flawless fit and finish and nary a squeak or rattle in two examples driven about 250km on a wide variety of roads in and around Barcelona.
The launch of the model was preceded by extensive training for all employees at both the car assembly plant at Burnaston, near Derby, and Deeside, which builds the 1.8-litre Atkinson cycle petrol engine. Training covered both hybrid vehicle manufacturing and wider environmental issues.
The diploma workers gain on completing the course has been officially recognised as a UK Level 2 NVQ (national vocational qualification).
Toyota said employees needed to be 'well versed' in specific issues surrounding hybrid vehicles, such as safe handling of the high voltage elements of the Hybrid Synergy Drive powertrain.
Walker said earlier: "It means we are the first in Europe to have the skills and knowledge needed to manufacture full hybrid vehicles. And with Toyota's strategy to progressively expand its full hybrid technology to more models, TMUK will be well placed to support this expansion."
About a quarter of the Auris Hybrid's 1,753 parts are specific to the model and changes were made to 69% (149) of build processes already in place to build conventional petrol and diesel models.
Seven new processes were required for such items as fitting the sub-battery in the luggage compartment and main battery behind the rear seats, connection of the high voltage cable and installing the 1.8VVTi engine.
The offline inspection area was also redesigned and, due to the car's silent running in electric-only EV mode, new safety measures were introduced, including a new 'highway code' for workers moving around the plant.
The test track at the plant was also changed to enable the car to be trialled in its different driving modes and the regenerative braking to be checked.
Paint shop changes were also necessary to add the new white pearl pearlescent colour - a hybrid exclusive - to the palette.