Toyota gigacasting prototype cuts production from hours to minutes

Die casting tech aims to streamline assembly in preparation for EV shift.

Toyota Motor showed off a prototype of its new gigacasting equipment that can make a third of a car body in about three minutes, a development that will be key to its plans to ramp up electric-vehicle production profitably in the coming years.

The machine at the Japanese automaker’s Myochi plant released a plume of white smoke as it ran during a recent demonstration for journalists. Molten aluminium poured in was rapidly cooled from 700C to 250C, solidifying into a single die-cast piece making up the entire rear third of the vehicle chassis. This is normally built from 86 parts in a 33-step process that takes hours.

Toyota has unveiled its next-generation battery electric vehicle (BEV) production line and a suite of new technologies at its Myochi plant in Japan. The introduction of these advancements represents Toyota’s effort to compete with American and European automakers in the EV race. Toyota’s next-generation electric vehicles will be produced in three modular sections

Toyota aims to exploit such advances to halve production processes, plant investment and manufacturing preparation lead time, all to aid in its quest to sell 3.5 million electric vehicles a year by 2030.

Gigacasting will be used to make the front and rear sections of a new electric model due out in 2026.

Toyota built its first gigacasting prototype in September 2022. While the heavy moulds initially required as much as a day to swap out, this has been cut to 20 minutes by minimising the number of parts that need to be detached. Toyota aims to achieve 20% higher productivity than the competition with proprietary software to analyse the optimal conditions for moulding.

Another piece of Toyota’s strategy, self-propelled production, addresses the need to use factory space more efficiently to accommodate the new equipment needed for EV manufacturing.

Toyota Motor’s prototype gigacasting equipment can produce a third of a vehicle chassis in three minutes. (Photos courtesy of Toyota)

At the automaker’s Motomachi plant, a partly built car, with tyres and a battery but no sides or top, drives itself at 0.1 metres per second to a robot arm that attaches seats brought over by an automated guided vehicle. Once finished, the vehicle moves to a different area for inspection and shipping.

This setup does away with conveyor belts, enabling the plant’s layout to be changed faster and cutting down on investment. Toyota’s goal is to halve assembly time from around 10 hours now.

High battery costs make EVs difficult to produce profitably by just expanding on conventional manufacturing methods. Tesla, which has already adopted gigacasting technology, has kept itself cost-competitive by building a limited number of models in large quantities.

Toyota, with its pre-existing base of automaking technology and equipment and its broad model line-up, is differently situated from younger companies.

“We’re learning new options from specialised EV makers to take on the challenge,” Chief Production Officer Kazuaki Shingo said.

Toyota aims to sell 1.5 million EVs in 2026, roughly 60 times last year’s total. CEO Takaki Nakanishi of the Nakanishi Research Institute expects 40% or so to be built on the existing Toyota New Global Architecture platform, with the rest using an EV-specific platform.

Toyota’s self-propelled assembly line has cars drive themselves instead of riding on conveyor belts

Toyota’s conventional frames were also designed to balance efficiency in development with comfort, but they are not expected to be profitable in EVs. The automaker is expected to use its new frames in around 1.7 million of the 3.5 million EVs it aims to sell in 2030.

Although Toyota remains the world’s largest carmaker in terms of volume, its BEV sales currently lag behind competitors such as Tesla, Ford, and General Motors. However, with its latest advancements in production technology and solid-state battery development, Toyota is positioning itself to catch up and gain market share in the rapidly growing EV market. Toyota sold around 24 000 EVs in 2022, lagging significantly behind Tesla’s deliveries of about 1.31 million.