The first thing that comes to mind on what has so far been no more than a very quick look at the new Yaris is the greatly improved cabin, in design, specification and materials quality terms.

“Quality is being driven in that direction by the increasing sophistication of the customer in the B segment,” observed Toyota Europe’s manufacturing purchasing chief Mark Adams.

Speaking on the sidelines of a media presentation at the French plant in Valennciennes that makes the Yaris, he said a rising number of customers for that B segment car were migrating down from the C segment (Auris, Golf, Focus, etc) and bringing their expectations with them.

Hence items like multimedia system, Bluetooth, panoramic glass roof and dual zone automatic climate control.

Using fewer suppliers for more parts has also helped, Adams said.

“From a sourcing strategy, we’ve tried to source the complementary parts in the vehicle cabin from the same supplier and that means they tend to be using the same toolmakers and therefore you see a greater degree of ‘complementation’ in the plastic finishes in the cabin.

“Much of the facia (dashboard) plastics are sourced from the same factory and therefore we can tune the quality to be complementary.”

What the customer perceives as “better quality” is not necessarily provided through using “more expensive materials”, Adams added. Different materials or different surface treatments can make a difference.

“We heard loud and clear criticism on previous [Yaris] models of too much hard plastic that, when tapped, made a noise like a drum.

“To provide new materials which are perhaps a little softer, a little more forgiving in their aspect, a little deeper in the grain pattern, maybe with the application of some soft-touch finishes as well, is not enormously more costly to provide, it’s just a different solution to provide.”

He said the previous design wasn’t necessarily borne out of an economic need but a perception of what the customer wanted and that had changed.

‘Scaratchability’ had been an issue, along with ‘cleanability’ and that was now being factored in to materials selection.

The single windscreen wiper had been adopted after good feedback from A segment Aygo owners but had required “heavy development to get right” due to different wind deflection characteristics on a single blade.

He said the recalls of the last few years [Toyota Europe was most affected by the ‘sticky pedal’ issue – ed] had seen responsibility “devolved to the regions” and response to “technical issues in the field” being speeded up. Regional quality committees reporting to a global committee have been set up.

“Our quality has improved in time but not necessarily triggered [by the recalls] because we have been working on quality improvement continuously, particularly in the supply base.”

Figures from the European association of Toyota suppliers had shown a 91% improvement in faults per million parts down to an average of 17ppm in the last 12 months and it has been lower than the target 15 in the last three months.

“We strive for zero defects.”

On recent suggestions in the media the Chinese are moving to protect rare earth supplies, Adams said “it is a concern but in reality we use minute quantities” and a survey of suppliers had shown “a long survivability timeline” on stocks and deliveries in the pipeline.

In the time it took to do the survey there were moves to government and diplomatic levels to open up supply.

“The scare factor has proven to be greater than the reality so far,” he said, noting that there had been reported moves to re-open a closed California mine and that Japanese explorers had discovered under-sea resources.

“Clearly there’s some exploration going on to try and break that monopoly.”