Toyota Motor Corp. appears to hold an edge over other carmakers in design going into the next decade, a retired General Motors Corp. engineer says.

Robert Templin, a former chief engineer for GM's Cadillac Division and now a private consultant, said the Japanese company has developed a system that could allow it to restyle its cars annually.However, Toyota spokesman Mike Michels said the company currently spends about four years designing and engineering a new car.

"One year is astonishingly fast," he said. "I'm certainly not aware of any capability we have to do it." But Michels added that Templin "may have been privy to something I don't know about."

Templin, speaking at the University of Michigan Management Briefing Seminar, said his assessment of Toyota being able to "reskin" a car in one year was based on published information and his observations of Toyota's computerized styling equipment in Tokyo in late 1986.

He recommended that U.S. automakers adopt similar systems, especially in body panels.

"This is really the direction you have to take," Templin said. "Somebody else is doing it, so what choice do you have?"

Meantime, a Ford official says more attention will be paid by car makers to the interiors of automobiles in the next few years.