Very interesting -- though apparently not headed to the US. From an article in the Wall Street Journal:
Best known for its top-selling cars like the Prius and Corolla, Toyota is looking to apply its ecofriendly image and technical know-how to help boost sales of its small and little-known prefabricated-housing division.
Unbeknownst to most of us, Toyota prefabs have been around for awhile:
Since 1975, Toyota has been building steel-frame houses designed to withstand earthquakes and typhoons and keep out burglars.
The tie-in with Toyota's vehicles is certainly interesting:
Toyota's aspirations as a home builder are also gaining new importance with the planned launch by 2010 of its plug-in vehicles, gas-electric hybrid cars with powerful lithium-ion batteries that drivers will need to recharge at home. The car maker is testing an electricity-monitoring system in its homes that would charge the vehicle during off-peak hours to keep utility bills low, while the car's battery can serve as an electrical backup, powering the home during blackouts.
I can't help but quote this imagery:
At the Kasugai Housing Works in central Japan, one of Toyota's three prefab-housing factories, an assembly line of robots, conveyor belts and helmeted workers produced a steady flow of rectangular steel-framed cubicles finished with staircases, kitchen cupboards, bathtubs and toilets.
The timeline sounds right:
Most Toyota homes are made from six or more of these large cubicles, which are assembled -- like Legos -- on the building site. From its start on the factory floor to its final completion on site, a Toyota home can be built in 45 days, less than half the time it takes for contractors to build a typical wooden-frame home, Toyota says.
Other than what it called a one-time "experiment" building a development of 50 homes near its truck plant in San Antonio in 2006, Toyota says it has no ambitious plans to build homes outside Japan.
The company's past sales leave much room for expansion, within Japan and abroad:
5,000 units in 2006
4,600 units in 2007
I couldn't find an official Toyota Homes Website, just this little tidbit from Toyota's homepage.
Read the whole article for some housing issues that are specific to Japan.
subtitle: Steel-Frame Houses Get Renewed Push, Tie-In to Electric Cars
publication: The Wall Street Journal
author: John Murphy
length: 1,000 words
publication date: July 2, 2008