Toyota vs. General Motors

All along, the 2007 Car Wars was running close.
Toyota told us 9.37 million vehicles in 2007 worldwide sales.
The company said it wasn’t going to release numbers beyond that.
Then GM gave their number admirably down to the last car: 9,369,524.
Too close call.
It was only then Toyota gave us another digit _ 9.366 million, about 3,000 vehicles fewer than GM’s.
I asked Toyota officials if they had waited for GM to release numbers.
Maybe they even wanted to release numbers that were smaller to avert a backlash from Americans upset that an industrial icon had been dethroned as the world’s top automaker _ a title GM has held for 77 years.
This is the way Toyota sources tell it:
They thought another digit wouldn’t be necessary because they had expected GM’s sales numbers to be far above the rounded off 9.37 million.
They had gone on past differences between the numbers GM had given for global production vs. global sales. (Global sales tend to be bigger than global production for GM.)
Toyota was surprised to see how close GM’s global sales tally was to their own, and so they felt they had to release the extra digit since reporters wouldn’t stop asking.
By the way, Toyota is No. 1 in global vehicle production.
Production tends to be easier to keep track for manufacturers than sales, which must add up the count from dealers.
With the race virtually a tie, this means we’ll keep watching the GM vs. Toyota numbers game all this year.

Whistleblowers 2

Our story about an American whistleblower came about because someone left a blog comment, telling me about the lawsuit. The lawsuit says that NUMMI plant management routinely pressured an employee to downgrade or delete reports of serious auto defects. Another link to the story.

Father of the Hybrid

People ask Toyota Executive Vice President Takeshi Uchiyamada for his autograph as though he is a rock star because he is the “father” of the Prius.
Recently, I did a story about how he worked on Toyota’s Prius, the first gas-electric hybrid to go into commercial mass-production.
The Prius celebrates its 10th anniversary in December.
I did another story about Toyota: How American executives are being wooed away by rivals Chrysler and Ford.
That’s a new challenge for Toyota.
Toyota is very Japanese in valuing lifetime employment and employee loyalty.
To get ahead in Toyota (Japanese-style,) a worker must be loyal and stay with Toyota for years and years.
I wrote about Jim Press after a group interview when he became the first foreigner to join the board of Toyota.
And then again when he left.

Toyota’s Press departs for Chrysler

I was on vacation but back at work, although from home, when I found out late at night that Jim Press whom I’ve written about in this blog was leaving Toyota for Chrysler.
Press, an American, just joined the board of Toyota as the first non-Japanese three months ago.
It was a rather high-profile promotion as a clear message about how Toyota was becoming a global company.
Press’ getting headhunted to Chrysler is a sign of how Toyota is winning respect in the industry.
But I wonder who’ll be the next non-Japanese Toyota brings on board?

American on board at Toyota

A white male isn’t ususally speaking from the minority side of the diversity divide.
But Jim Press is the first non-Japanese to join the board of Toyota ( my story on his promotion winning shareholder approval last week).
He talks very softly _ Japanese style _ and says much of Toyota’s corporate culture is Japanese _ hence the understatement about becoming No. 1.
I asked him about that: Why Toyota officials keep saying they aren’t making beating GM/becoming No. 1 their goal, when reaching the top would seem like a victory for a company.
“Do you read your own headlines? Do you believe it? Would you forget how you got there, if you were? I don’t see any benefit in that. Customers don’t care who’s No. 1.”
Then Press asked me where I was from _ to make sure I understood Japanese culture.
“There’s no satisfaction of beating somebody,” he said. “That’s not something you’re proud of, is it?”
I had to say:
“Sometimes we like to beat Reuters.”
His reply:
“But you’re not a Japanese company, are you?”
How can Toyota become more American?
Toyota is already an American company, he said.
He said Toyota has a “hybrid” culture _ clever how he got the automaker’s key technology in there!
Press compared Toyota to the immigrant who becomes American _ yet continues to be proud of his/her roots:
“At how many generations removed from the original immigrant do you lose your identity? None. You should keep that. That’s part of diversity. You keep the strength of what makes you different, what makes you good and successful. But you’re doing it in that country. We want to be the best company in America _ period.”

Japanese Automakers 2

A couple of stories about new technology at Japanese automakers:
Nissan and hybrid technology.
Toyota and telematics technology.

Japanese automakers

At a time when Detroit’s Big Three are closing plants and slashing jobs to revive their ailing business, their Japanese counterparts are busy opening plants in Japan for the first time in decades.
My AP story and another link , and another.
Toyota named Jim Press, an American, as its first foreigner on its board of directors. Another link That’s a move apparently meant to avert a backlash for the surging sales of the Toyota Yaris and other Japanese imports in the U.S.
_ a theme that’s explored in my other story.

Cute culture

How do you sell a car that’s made by your rival and package it so that it sells for a higher price? Nissan’s Pino is a picturebook lesson in how marketing works to place a product in the consumer’s consciousness so that it becomes more desirable than what it is. What makes something cute? When is beige cute (fashionable) and when is it drab (yucky)? See a photo here of a proud Pino owner and her mom. And here. You may think it’s about duping the buyer, but is it? A car is a car is a car. And what you pay for these days is as much about perception/image and experience/feeling as the THING you end up owning.