The Future of Kaizen at Toyota is Epic

Posted on 11 Nov 2008 by The Manufacturer

As the gurus of efficiency face up to the current financial challenges of world business, Jon Miller hopes they haven't become immune to the company president crying wolf...

Despite its vaunted Toyota Production System, culture of kaizen and a line up of fuel-efficient vehicles, Toyota Motors is being hit hard by the crisis affecting automotive manufacturers.

In addition to slowing demand due to high gasoline prices and a weakening economy, the strong yen has particularly hurt Toyota. The nasty downward spike in
The chart above hits the top line first, folks. Newspapers report that Toyota’s bottom line for the second quarter was down by a massive 70% and they project that they will lose many millions of dollars this quarter. There is a chance that Toyota may not end the year with a profit, for the first time in more than a half century.

President Katsuaki Watanabe has been famously promoting a healthy sense of crisis at Toyota since taking the position a few years ago. Back then the car company looked unstoppable and backsliding due to complacency seemed like a very real danger. Hopefully the people at Toyota have not grown tired of his crying wolf, now that a huge pack of big bad wolves have shown up. Serious action is needed. The latest efforts to kaizen the cost and raise profit are described by a Financial Times article from Thursday November 6, 2008 entitled Toyota’s troubles show no one is immune:

‘But Toyota appeared to begin a new chapter on Thursday when it said it had established an “Emergency Profit Improvement Committee”, to be chaired by Katsuaki Watanabe, its president.’

I wonder if they realized that Emergency Profit Improvement Committee spells EPIC! It was probably just a lucky translation.

It was thanks in part to three crises that we have lean manufacturing today. The Toyota Production System came from the need for Toyota to reinvent itself after its bankruptcy in 1950, the oil shock in 1973 and the first time the yen-dollar exchange rate dove from the 100 yen range to the 80 yen range in the early 1990s. Each time Toyota used kaizen to pull through with renewed vigor, powered by the creativity of their people maing process innovations that cut costs. Toyota will continue to do all of those things that smart companies do when times are tough: look for ways to cut costs and adjust the product portfolio to what people will buy. If they can pull out of this crisis without massive government intervention and without resorting to the unthinkable – layoffs – this will be another truly epic chapter in Toyota’s history.

By Jon Miller of Gemba Panta Rei blog.

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