Monday, August 14, 2006

World: Toyota's lessons may bite back

I heard a BBC news report about the rise of Toyota in the USA. The thrust was that Toyota was about to overtake General Motors as the biggest volume car manufacturer. A number of interesting points came out of it, two of which I'll mention.

The first is the mention that Toyota could change models on the production line without halting production at all - it was simply a matter of updating the software controlling the robots. Now that might be a slight exaggeration (or it might not), but it's quite something to be able to retool with practically no stoppage. By contrast, when GM changed models, they had to suffer a significant stoppage - in the order of days, at least.

The other point was that Americans were becoming tired of defect-ridden cars, and were choosing Japanese cars more and more for reliability. The implication of the report was that U.S. manufacturers were getting worse at their job. However, I really suspect the problem was that Japanese manufacturers were getting better. With a consistent approach to quality improvement, they had gradually reduced their fault rate below the Americans.

It's a tale of eclipse through complacency. Japanese manufacturing processes were taken to a new level. However, my point: I wouldn't be surprised if the Japanese are eventually overshadowed in turn. By China. It's in the nature of a mature capitalist economy, and the Japanese economy has been particularly moribund in recent years. By contrast, China has been on the boil constantly for at least the same length of time.

Yes, I'm extending the economics of the nation to that of the corporation, but I believe they are inextricably linked. Hunger and innovation are important factors in the dynamism of China. Plus a huge and increasingly wealthy domestic consumer base. It may take some years for this transformation - but it's later than you think.

No comments: