6 Questions For Toyota’s “The Truck Whisperer” Mike Sweers

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As I left Toyota’s Chief Engineer Mike Sweers house in Michigan, I received the following press release from Toyota about their “truck whisperer.” Sweers is one of the smartest guys I know and here is some good insight into what makes a truck chief engineer.

6 Questions For Toyota's "The Truck Whisperer" Mike Sweers

Mike Sweers (on the left) stands next to the new 2017 Toyota Tacoma along with Toyota’s Bill Fay.

At the Toyota Technical Center in York Township, Mich., Mike Sweers serves as the chief engineer for both the Tundra and Tacoma.  Take a ride to Southeastern Michigan to find out a little more about the life of a chief engineer and what goes into making Toyota trucks the toughest on the road.

Exactly what do you do?
A chief engineer’s responsibility is really the vehicle from the start to the finish of its life cycle. What I mean by that is as we start with the vehicle concept, looking at what the customer wants, needs, desires, and how that vehicle fits into their daily life and how we – as Akio Toyoda would say – make our customer smile. So that involves collecting data from Product Planning, Marketing and other groups.

We meet with evaluation groups so we can understand how a customer would use the vehicle in the segment. Since I’m in charge of trucks, it’s how would a full-sized truck customer use this truck instead of a compact truck customer. What do they do with them? From a daily driver, to weekends, to the guy who goes out and races his truck in the desert or rock climbs. How do we fit each one of those customers’ needs? Or do we pick a specific portion of that segment and focus our product on them?

From there we have to work out the investment, figure out the business case for the vehicle and get it approved by the board of directors.
So before we can ever start designing the vehicle, we go through all these steps.

So when it starts, you have nothing really?
It depends. If it’s a brand new concept vehicle or a brand new segment, it’s different. We have to understand what we’re trying to sell. Trucks are a very well established segment. And how you treat that segment or how you break into that segment may be completely different. For Tundra, it’s more of what we call a niche truck. The opposite of that is Tacoma. We are the leader in that segment. And how we approach each vehicle is a little different. We can be a little polarizing, a little daring on Tundra because it’s a niche vehicle. With Tacoma, we need to make sure we are satisfying that segment so we remain the leader in that segment itself. So we’re looking at the demographics, making sure we’re meeting our customers’ needs. For me, I’m a truck guy, so I have a personal interest in it because I always drive trucks. So it’s very important to me that I have a product that we’re putting out that I’m excited to drive as well.

So what is the difference between a Tundra customer and an F-150 customer?
A Tundra customer is really buying the truck because they know that truck is going to last. It has the lowest cost of ownership. It has the highest residual value in the market. And that supports the fact that the customer will get a high-quality product. In the full-sized segment, the number one reason is capability, “What can I tow? What can I haul?” But it’s also kind of a reflection of the owner itself. Tundra owners are saying, “I bought the best. I can do whatever my neighbor’s F-150 can do, but I know it’s going to last forever.”

Do sales factor into how you approach these things?
Sales factor in all the time. At the end of the day, we have to sell our product. We’re going up against the best-selling vehicle in the country, but how we do it is with QDR, styling, by making sure we’re meeting our customers’ requirements for wants needs and desire.

What is the design process like?
As we move into design, we get into daily activities with the engineers. How are we going to put the vehicle together? What combinations go together? We work with TEMA production engineering. We work with purchasing every day, cost planning every day. We need to make sure we’re hitting design targets. And we’re still working with styling, and the goal is that the initial sketch everyone agreed to is what we want to hit. So trying to find new ways of manufacturing and making sure we can still build the product.

Then we go into tooling. Once we move into tooling, we go to the plant and ask if they can build it. The last thing we want to do is give them something that is not easily built or can’t be built repeatedly. That affects our quality. Or a big area we have to be cautious of, especially with the plants in Baja and Texas that are running full capacity, is that we’re not creating ergonomic issues for the line operator. We don’t want anyone to get hurt putting our vehicles together. I wouldn’t necessarily use a GPS tablet as a navigation alternative.

It’s a big team effort. But if we consider ourselves an orchestra, my role is the conductor: getting people from all parts of the company to talk together. Everybody does their job, but I need to make sure everyone is doing their job with consideration of everyone else’s job.

What’s important to doing your job well?
To me, the key to being a good chief engineer is to be a customer. So if I have to change the oil, can I get to the oil filter without running oil all over the place? We had a van when my kids were young and I had to make everyone go inside when I’d change the oil on it because it was a 90-minute affair and an hour of that was cleaning up the oil. It would infuriate me, and that’s something I think about. Even when we go down to the plant, one thing I tell our engineers is, “If you wouldn’t want to do that job for eight hours a day, then don’t ask somebody else to do that job.”

Filed Under: Tundra News


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  1. breathing borla says:

    cool story tim,

    now what I need, want and desire is

    1) a stereo that doesn’t suck (time to drop JBL, go with Alpine or Pioneer or something)

    2) headlights and fog-lights that don’t suck (time to drop the dual filament H4 – this was a major step back from my 2010 DC Limited tundra)

    3) storage (need somewhere for tow straps, ratchet straps, ball mount, etc), see Rambox or something..

    4) a bump in HP, Torque, and MPG (400hp, 415 lbs, and 15 city, 19 highway)

    please pass this onto sweers as things that are lacking in my 2016 platinum tundra.

    They have the QDR iced, now it’s time to up the content and functionality of the truck.

    • hemi lol says:

      BB I gotta agree with you…..but……..

      1. I Say Mike Sweers…. Don’t drop the JBL but get it back to the way it was on the 2010…. the tuning of the new one leaves much to desire….. the new Tacoma jbl is AWESOME!!!!

      2. I second the headlights…… Give me back dual headlights low beam/ high beam separated and PLEASE make them Projector and LED!

      3. Storage…… We used up too much room under the seat of the crew max…. I can deal with the seat folding up instead of slide/recline but give us storage area… FYI Ram’s in floor box if possible with no issues is really a cool idea.

      4. and YES its time for more power and effiency…. whether you bump the 5.7 up with power or offer a new engine is fine….. IF you go Atkinson cycle please give a mode to shut it off…… for power sake. direct injection is obviously gonna be a plus. why not give the tundra the 8 speed from the Land Cruiser?

      5. Interior features like GM’s new dash screen that opens for a cubby hole storage, Qi charger, Cooled seats ATTACHED to the HVAC, Tow Mirrors for the Upper end trucks with power extend and fold that look the part PLEASE. Inclinometer like the off road taco has, obviously should change dash cluster for a better screen, and bring back the optitron gauges backlit like the previous limited/platinum modes.

      I think I should just work for Toyota….. I can go on like this for days lol. Best QDR of any truck EVER! but time to bump up the feature content.

    • Speedster says:

      EXACTLY! Yes, Toyota has the QDR figured out, but that’s not good enough any longer.

      People rotate through vehicles sooner than they can get worn out, 3.6 years is the national average for length of ownership of a vehicle. That’s why they do 3 year lease specials.

      Longevity isn’t as big of a factor any longer, people want “stuff”. All the tech features are driving people’s decisions. Ford’s SYNC system does more with voice commands, satellite radio gives you artist and song alerts, you get heated and cooled seats in a Lariat, have to go to Platinum to get them in the Tundra. These are the things that drive people to buy one versus the other.

      Fuel economy is still an issue. It wouldn’t take much for Toyota to get better. Use the Lexus direct injection, and give it their 8 speed transmission too. The technology is there, share it.

      Give me back my sliding and reclining rear seat in the CrewMax. It was much better design in the previous gen Tundra. You can’t put anything under or behind the current CrewMax seat.

      Bring back the supercharger, or make it an add on option from the factory. I would do it from mile 0 if I had it to do over again.

  2. GoBig says:

    Typo in the photo caption. Better switch that from 2015 to 2017.

  3. Don says:

    My comments have been pretty direct about the Tundra and what should be done with the truck now to meet the market demands of a HD and my position has not change. The HD gas should have been in production years ago. Now I would like to say thanks for my 2008 built in 2007. It rides like crap but is stable as can be when towing. My 5.7 is the best motor I have ever used and this truck has been through so much including 17000 dollars of damage in an accident. It is my everyday vehicle and tow vehicle. I am never below 2000lb pin wt and 11K trailer wt on my Grand Design 5th wheel. If you where involved in the testing of the 2007/2008 release Tundra then thank you. If you ever are in Flordia when I am there and want to see what a almost 9 year old truck feels like towing over spec on a daily basics just let me know.

  4. NoQDRTundra says:

    Quote “a little daring on Tundra because it’s a niche vehicle”

    Is there an example of this?

  5. NoQDRTundra says:

    You guys need to read this article more closely. Big changes are not in store for the Tundra until a plant is DEDICATED to manufacturing it and that will only happen if Tacoma production relocated elsewhere. Then will Toyota dedicate an entire manufacturing plant for a niche vehicle in perhaps the most competitive vehicle sector?

    By the time another plant comes online for the Tacoma, the Mirai will be further along–perhaps competing with the Tundra for assembly time?

  6. Don says:

    It is my opinion there will be no relocation of the Tacoma and the decision to not change the Tundra was done without any thought of a new plant or line change in the future. I like the fact that they keep the 5.7 and Hino rear end in production but it is clear that Toyota in my opinion will never go beyond what you see today. As a matter of fact due to EPA standards and level 3 diesel regs I see Toyota even dropping this vehicle because honestly they cannot compete with Ford and Ram. The revenue created at 75K or so sales is not enough to make changes in Texas or Princeton. How come Nissan did the change…I really dont know. I do believe they can compete with half ton and 3/4 tone vehicles and we will see that once their numbers climb. I just put on 2400 miles on my Tundra and I saw one Nissan XD. Thats it.

    One encouraging note is where I tow alot in Flordia I see alot of Tundras. More there than in ILLinois by a long shot.

    • NoQDRTundra says:

      I agree that there is a bit of uncertainty for the Tundra, especially since it is now considered a niche vehicle for Toyota for the reasons you have pointed out. Back in ’07, the release of the 2nd gen Tundra was considered one of the most important vehicle launches for Toyota USA in the past 50 (a quote from a Toyota executive); and now, a niche vehicle?
      Maybe Tim or Mike can allay this fear for some?

      • Tim Esterdahl says:

        The Tundra is not going away. Consider this. Who makes the most trucks in the world? Toyota. They maybe a car company first, but they aren’t that shabby on the truck side either.


        • NoQDTundra says:

          Even Mozart and Beethoven produced some music that was not so good. I agree, Toyota does produce some trucks with the QDR they claim. For example the Hilux; this truck serves as a base truck for Arctic Trucks. If it lacked QDR, then they wouldn’t be using it.

          If there were no chicken tax, do you think the Tundra, a niche vehicle for Toyota now, would exist?

  7. Don says:

    Yes they are a car company first and it could not be more evident in their commericals where they just show a glimpse of the Tundra and everything else is SUV or car. Almost never does Toyota showcase the truck alone. Almost never we see an explanation of the changes between 2007 and 2016 by Toyota personal. I love the 2016 Tundra but I could not vouch for any components frame, trans, rear end since no toyota truck people ever discuss it like Ford and Chevy and Ram does. I would not tow my 5th wheel with a new Tundra like I do with my 2008. I know people dont like my comments but after 9 years with a Tundra I will say what I want until banned. As most people know 2019 brings a new CAR PLANT in mexico..not truck but car which further shows me a true global outlook for Toyota cars and not full size trucks and even more crap is they will be built elsewhere and brought here, like other companies I know …I know.

    These are my opinions, however I stick with the facts that the Tacoma is Toyota’s focus for revenue not the Tundra. Since they are building in mexico as I type you can bet there will be no HDTundra Plant here.

    • NoQDTundra says:

      Don’t worry Don, if I’m not banned, then I can’t see you being banned; just no name calling and stick to the facts 🙂

      Finally, someone who sees the same future as I! Just compare the Tundra commercials from ’07 and now. The ’07 commercials were killer and tough! Now, just a pretty truck not doing much. Second, I’ll say this again. In ’07 the Tundra was NOT a niche vehicle for Toyota. Here’s a quote from a Toyota executive about the launch of it “One Toyota executive went so far as to call the launch of the second-generation Tundra the ‘single biggest and most important launch in Toyota’s 50-year U.S. history.” And now, it’s a niche vehicle.

      The evidence is there, people just need to make the effort to dig a little and think a little…

  8. NoQDRTundra says:

    @Mike and Tim: Whatever happened to the second Tundra the Anderson Cattle Ranch received to test the Tundra again?

  9. Don says:

    The Anderson Ranch results are the reason for my final decision on my Tundra. Goosenech live cattle towing destroys springs and frame and it did not happen there. Very impressive and not to mention the weight which was very very heavy. Here is something that happened to me at the Chicago Auto show durning the intro of the 2007 Tundra. If anybody was there you should remember that they had a small CAT back hoe on a trailer that came in around 10k or so on display. So I caught the attention of someone from Corprate Toyota, a young guy, tall but cannot remember his name. I think I caught him off guard but I asked him what did you really build the 2007 Tundra for max tow etc. He told me the 2007 was built around 13k towing from the factory. You wont find that in any Toyota manual. It has been a good tough unit but….tailgate I cold welded the wrap over with epoxy in as many places as possible and it held up perfect, frame…fluid film twice a year, bed had some holes due to rust and some from a clutch and fly wheel off one of my trucks, I layered JB weld over a weeks time, then rhino lined and fluid film underneath and never a problem.

  10. NoQDRTundra says:

    Same here on the Tundra Deconstructed Series, it sold me on the Tundra. As for your bed rust, too late now, but there is a TSB for it. However, it may have come out at the end of your warranty. I am glad to hear you were able to get it under control.

  11. NoQDRTundra says:

    Now, for a head scratcher: the GX 460 comes with front and rear e-lockers as reported earlier in the GX 460 article. Here’s a quote from it”.
    Plus, the GX460 offers Active Traction Control (A-TRAC) which also helps adjust to off-road conditions and makes use of both electronically locking front and rear differentials. Yep, front AND rear differentials.”

    Why in the heck does a Toyota luxury vehicle have lockers in the front and rear when the Tundra TRD Pro, an OFF-ROAD vehicle, doesn’t have a single locker? This makes Toyota’s truck program look like it does not have a clear direction, even haphazard.

  12. Don says:

    I did not know that but more than likely it is designed to seduce buyers in the middle east where money is not an issue and Toyota can add to their bottom line without worrying about the US market prices and pumping up the price to another market. US emmision standards make it easy to export. But you are right Toyota truck programs needs to be reset and mircro managed in another direction with forward thinking to the US market….or as I politely emailed the CEO and wrote (in the US you are either in the truck business or you are not). If you are worried about lack of sales then you should worry more in the future without any noticeable changes in so many years. The new cummins 5.0 in the XD Nissan was developed within the parameters of the Federal Gov alternative fuel programs. A missed oportunitiy for sure in my opinion, but it is what it is. The good thing is we have many trucks to pick from and from a consumers point of view and a logical point of view we really dont need the Tundra as it is marketed today. I am not anybodys fan boy but I can still go to ford, chevy or even Ram and find a good amount of transparency about the build, Toyota I cant or at least I cannot.

  13. IndianaToyotaList says:

    I’m on the dealer allocation list for a ’17 Tundra TRD Pro. Truly the niche of the niche.

    Owned a 2000 4Runner and the best vehicle I’ve ever owned. Sold at 160k and only replaced a starter motor. I still see it around town and it must have 250k by now.

    Tried domestics, but coming back to Toyota because of the quality. Test drove a new Chevy and it rattled. At 45k that is not acceptable.

    The Toyota Tundra seems solid and a vehicle I’ll still be driving in 10 years. Thanks to Mike and the engineering team.

    • David says:

      What about the Taco TRD PRO or that truck ain’t in the mix?

      Not everybody has a need for a full size truck and as a long time Taco owner I can’t goto something other even if it is Toyota.

      • IndianaToyotaList says:

        I probably would have bought the Taco and really like the stying a bit better. But, we tow a 7,000 lb camper in the summer. Needed the extra reserve towing power of the Tundra.

  14. David says:

    Howdy, is the TRD PRO a real truck (production) or just a concept vehicle?

    In the case the TRD PRO is a real truck then: availability?

    • Tim Esterdahl says:

      The TRD PRO Tacoma is a real truck. SO is the Tundra TRD PRO.

      The Tacoma TRD PRO will be available in the next month. The Tundra TRD PRO is already available.


  15. Joel Francis says:

    Good interview. From what I gather about Mike he sounds like an intelligent, practical person, which is great. I hope Mike can see my comments. I”m from mid-Michigan and my grandfather and two uncles retired from GM. But, I went against the flow over twenty years I have driven mainly Toyota vehicles, driving them well over a million miles. However, it seems Tundra has lost some Kaizen and here is an example. After searching for a new truck for months, I almost bought a 2017 Tundra SR5 TRD double cab ffrom Crown Toyota in Holland, MI. The ’17 seems to have smoother shifting and a quieter, smoother ride than previous Tundra’s, which is great. But, the first thing we normally touch on a vehicle is the door handle and the Tundra handle felt cheap and thinner than the plastic on top of a five gallon bucket handle. The handle of this $41+ thousand dollar truck was cheaper/weaker than the handles on my brother’s 2001 4Runner with over 200k and is 16 years older than this ’17 TRD. Then, last week I was on the verge of buying a ’17 Tundra from Ed Martin Toyota in Anderson, IN, but as I was driving there the salesman drove the Tundra through the dealer car wash and part of this brand new $41k + truck front passenger door handle popped right off. When I felt if the main door handles I thought, “The handles of our 2007 Camry are better built than this 2017 Tundra.” — All this to say that my budget was only around $40k and customers like me should not be forced to buying a Limited, Platinum, or 1794 in order to get good quality Tundra handles, the one part of the truck we touch every day, especially in the cold and icy part of the Midwest. I echo the previous post that even RAM offers more options for the money than Tundra, which is a shame. Why did it take Tundra many years to make brake controllers standard? Why not practice Kaizen and make little improvements to the door handles on the lower trim Tundra’? Why not make power folding mirrors standard for the Tundra SR5 TRD, which would be great for going in and out of garages and also in tight spots off road? It seems Tundra is far behind in offering options for trucks in the $37k-$42k range and as a result are losing sales to even RAM.For as much as I like Toyota, I ended up buying a 2016 RAM 1500 with the 5.7 HEMI (20% off MSRP) with a lifetime drivetrain/transfer case warranty. “Sadly”, for less money than the Tundra SR5 TRD, this RAM has a sunroof, Alpine sound system, an 8.7″ screen that is far easier to see when the sun is out than Tundra’s weak display, a smoother ride, better gas mileage but with comparable torque, power folding mirrors, SOLID DOOR HANDKES, and many other options Tundra holds back from a large share of the truck market ($35k-$41k budgets)t. If sales are truly a concern for Tundra they need to start getting back to both Kaizen and offering quality and ample options for the money. As bad as RAM is on the durability side, their sakes have gone up steadily over the past few years in contrast to Tundra, possibly due to RAM offering more quality options for the money than Tundra. IF Tundra improves its QDR and Kaizen (better door handles!) for all of its Tundras, not just the priciest of trims, I will gladly come back and buy a Toyota Tundra.

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