Go to contents

[Opinion] The Toyota Spirit

Posted July. 29, 2005 03:04,   


“The Lexus and the Olive Tree,” Thomas Friedman’s book on economic principles in the era of globalization, has been published in 27 languages worldwide. Friedman visited the industrial city of Toyota by Shinkansen, the 290km/h bullet train. He was deeply impressed by the automobile factories there, which is why he named the book after “Lexus,” a car manufactured by Toyota Motor Corporation. “Humans were in charge of quality control, while virtually all the other things were done by robots. I was totally fascinated by the gluing robot who attached the front glass of a car. The robot moved his arms around to apply hot liquid rubber, and he did the work perfectly, without any errors.”

Toyota is one of the biggest Asian businesses, ranking fifth on Fortune’s Global Top 50 All Star list. When it comes to the number of cars sold, General Motors (GM) came in first in the global automobile industry. In terms of net profit or technology, however, Toyota is considered the best. Toyota has generated more than one trillion yen in net profit for two years in a row, and even supported GM, which suffered a deficit, in an endeavor to avoid possible conflicts in the United States (U.S.) market.

Katsuaki Watanabe (63), who became the new head of Toyota last month 41 years after joining the company, said in a press conference that he “Ordered a Hyundai car to be dismantled into pieces to examine what is better and what is worse about it than a Toyota one.” He might have said this out of consideration for Korean journalists, but it is true that Hyundai Motors has made an amazing progress to the level that even Toyota considers it a rival. Hyundai Motors also disassembles Toyotas and other of the world’s finest cars for benchmarking purposes. What is more remarkable, however, is that the best automobile company in the world would make a study of the world’s seventh-best car manufacturer.

Chairman Hiroshi Okuda of Toyota teaches his employees that “merchants never walk in the middle of the road; they walk on the roadside, looking around passers-by.” A company as good as Toyota deserves to walk boastingly in the middle of the road, but he says the firm, walking on the roadside, should take a look at the flow on the street. Even when in the lead, it learns about the competitors behind it and continuously seeks self-renovation: this is the Toyota spirit.

Hwang Ho-taek, Editorial writer, hthwang@donga.com