Slim Jims and Side Curtains: Toyota Celebrates 20 Years of Patented North American Innovation

Slim Jims and Side Curtains: Toyota Celebrates 20 Years of Patented North American Innovation

Read More

Ann Arbor, Mich. (June 15, 2015) — In 1995, breaking into a car wasn’t all that complicated. Slide a “slim jim” between the doorframe and the glass, give it a tug and that’s all she wrote. Over time, carmakers developed countermeasures to keep would-be bandits at bay. Some worked and some didn’t…but they all added cost to the vehicles and complexity to the manufacturing process.

Toyota engineer Norm Kerr, III, had a better idea.

It was a simple, off-the-shelf solution that saved time on the assembly line and realized a significant cost savings. While the implementation of Kerr’s idea was short-lived (Side-impact safety regulations resulted in completely re-engineered vehicle doors), the idea itself became symbolic. Not as an advance in anti-theft mechanisms but as the first patent issued to a Toyota Technical Center (TTC) engineer.
Fast forward 20 years and another TTC engineer, Nora Arellano, was awarded a patent for side curtain airbags used in the Toyota Tundra. Her idea, which can protect occupants during several different crash scenarios, resulted in the 1000th patent issued to Toyota’s North American Manufacturing and Engineering headquarters.
At a June 11th event, held in the Toyota Engineering Theater at the Michigan Science Center, Toyota North America CEO Jim Lentz recognized the achievements of Kerr, Arellano and 114 other Toyota engineers and researchers who earned patents during the previous fiscal year.
“These patents represent your brainpower, your innovation, your diligence, your hard work and your passion,” Lentz said. “Patents were essential in creating Toyota in 1937 and are equally important today in protecting the innovative products and processes you invent to make our customers’ experience the best in the business.”
Five Toyota Technical Center engineers have over 20 patents to their name, including Mindy Zhang who has been awarded 29 patents, the most of any Toyota North American team member.
After his initial patent, slim-jim-thwarting Kerr has been awarded several others, including two this year. As for Arellano, she has seven other patents and was recently named one of Corp! Magazine’s “Michigan’s Most Valuable Millenials.”

Toyota’s North American engineers and researchers and their efforts have resulted in Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing, North America, Inc (TEMA) being the third largest patent-holding company in Michigan.

About Toyota
Toyota (NYSE:TM), the world's top automaker and creator of the Prius, is committed to building vehicles for the way people live through our Toyota, Lexus and Scion brands. Over the past 50 years, we’ve built more than 25 million cars and trucks in North America, where we operate 14 manufacturing plants and directly employ more than 40,000 people. Our 1,800 North American dealerships sold more than 2.5 million cars and trucks in 2013 – and about 80 percent of all Toyota vehicles sold over the past 20 years are still on the road today.
Toyota partners with philanthropic organizations across the country, with a focus on education, safety and the environment. As part of this commitment, we share the company’s extensive know-how garnered from building great cars and trucks to help community organizations and other nonprofits expand their ability to do good. For more information about Toyota, visit

Brian Watkins
Toyota Technical Center
Tel: (734) 695-5088; E-mail: [email protected]


Related Images

Add to Cart

2015 Toyota Innovation Dinner 002

Toyota North America CEO Jim Lentz recognizes Toyota engineer Nora Arellano on receiving the 1,000th Toyota North American patent, June 11, 2015.

2015 Toyota Innovation Dinner 003

Toyota North America CEO Jim Lentz address Toyota patent awardees and guests at the 2015 Toyota North American Innovation Dinner, June 11, 2015.

2015 Toyota Innovation Dinner 001

Toyota Technical Center President Se iya Nakao (far left) and Toyota North America CEO Jim Lentz (fourthfrom left) stand with Toyota patent awardees during Toyota's North American Innovation Dinner, June 11, 2015.  

Email Sign Up

Enter your email address below to sign up for email alerts.

*Indicates Required