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Youths taking to auto repair classes

Chunichi Shimbun

Toyota Motor Corp. is conducting a class in Aichi Prefecture so young people can discover the fun of building cars by learning how to repair popular old cars such as the Publica and Sports 800.

Engineers from the Toyota group volunteer as teachers so they can pass their skills on to younger generations.

Next month will mark the 10th anniversary of the program, where boys and girls in their late teens don overalls and learn an important aspect of the automobile trade in hopes of becoming engineers in the future.

“Here, hold the door tightly,” a veteran engineer told a group of junior high school students repairing 1967 Publicas at a factory belonging to the Aste Foundation in Honmachi, in the city of Toyota, last month.

“You need to be careful about how much strength you use when using the wrench and it’s difficult to get it right,” said Ayumu Okada, 14, a second-year student from Obara Junior High School. “I want to become a car mechanic, so this is a good learning experience for me.”

With the help of his parents, who drive him an hour each way to and from class, Okada has been attending for the past four years.

The program, named Monozukuri Naze Naze Project (Project on the Whys of Manufacturing), began in fiscal 2004. This year 31 people are enrolled. They range from junior high and high school students to company workers in their early 20s.

Classes are conducted three Saturdays a month from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and the students learn how to fix up old cars or build go-karts they design themselves.

So far 300 students have completed the program, many of whom have gone on to work as engineers for automobile-related manufacturers.

The instructors are 110 volunteers from such firms as Toyota Motor Corp., Aisin Seiki Co. and Toyota Boshoku Corp.

The students take on real tasks, from plating and coating to repairing engines, as they receive step-by-step guidance.

To experience the hardships faced by employees back when Toyota Motor Corp. was founded, the factory is unheated, even in midwinter.

“By letting students disassemble and assemble the parts, they will start thinking and questioning (how things work),” said program leader Toshiya Shinoda, 54, who heads the trial production factory in Aisin Seiki.

“I want to pass them our knowledge, which they will hopefully remember for the next 30 years,” said Minoru Ishikawa, 75, an adviser to automobile equipment maker Shinmei Industry Co. He has been a volunteer in the program since it started.

As domestic car production shrinks, passing down manufacturing skills and knowledge becomes increasingly more important, because otherwise it could be lost forever.

The classes are run and organized by a committee created by the Aste Foundation and the Toyota Municipal Government.

The expenses for purchasing parts and maintaining the factory for the classes, which amount to roughly ¥10 million a year, are covered by funds left by the late Kazuko Toyoda, wife of former Toyota Motor Corp. President Eiji Toyoda, who himself passed away last September at the age of 100. A number of companies under the Toyota group also help with the project.

Until now, textiles and ceramics manufacturing classes have also been taught, but from April the course will focus solely on car manufacturing.

The name of the class will be changed to Mastering Car-Making Project.

There will be three levels of classes where students can start with the basics, such as using various tools, and then progress to more difficult levels where they will learn about plating, coating and other aspects of the trade.

Attendance is free, but students have to provide their own overalls or protective clothing.

The classes are open to elementary school students from fifth grade and above, and company workers can participate as well.

The application deadline is April 22. For further inquiries, call Toyota City Monozukuri Support Center at 0565 (43) 3456.

This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published March 7.