Toyota Tundra with Chief Engineer

2017Chief Engineer Mike Sweers (left) and Toyota Division Group Vice President and General Manager Bill Fay pose with the 2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro after its reveal at the Chicago Auto Show.

Photo by Joe Wilssens

By Joe Mavilia

Our road trip in the Tundra was as comfortable as a large luxury sedan. Photo by Toyota

TEST DRIVE Toyota Tundra 4X4 SR5 Crewmax has Michigan roots Michigander Mike Sweersis Toyota’s “Truck Whisperer”

My recent test drive of the Toyota Tundra pickup was one of longest road trips we’ve taken in a while – about 1,200 miles from Michigan to Virginia and back. We found the pickup had pleasant road manners and provided a ride quality you’d expect from a large luxury sedan. With a base price starting at $38,470 it was easy to see why this American-made full size pickup is popular in the Midwest – with its engineering roots right here in Southeast Michigan.

At the Toyota Technical Center in York Township, Mike Sweers serves as the chief engineer for both the Tundra and Tacoma. Based right here in Southeastern Michigan, we spokewith him to find out a little more about the life of a chief engineer and what goes into making Toyota trucks.

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.

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.”

For more information, see your local Toyota dealer, or visit

Test Drive by Vince Bodiford

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