Why Haven’t US Automakers Caught On?

While we are at it, let’s follow some other threads as well.

Why have GM and Ford, (and Daimler-Chrysler, and a host of others) not simply copied the successful practices of Toyota? Is what they are doing so unusual, mysterious, or hidden? Since the 1950’s Toyota has invited people to come and tour their plants. Later they sent some of their most senior engineers to Detroit to teach for a number of years in US schools. They said they were doing that to give honor to Henry Ford and others from whom they had learned.

For decades US automakers have picked up popular jargon that originated with the Toyota Production System – just-in-time, continuous improvement, eliminating waste, five why’s, root causes, and so forth – and used it in improvement programs and in describing to the press the things they were doing to improve their companies.

(Is this all marketing hype? Are the companies actually trying to do anything there? From a good deal of work inside the auto industry, I have the interpretation that a large number of people inside the companies are actually trying to improve what they are doing.)

Some claim that Japanese culture lends itself to the kind of operation that Toyota has, and the US culture does not lend itself to this. Taiichi Ohno, describing the birth of the system, says the opposite. He admired US workers and their productivity, having discovered that the US auto industry was nearly 10 times more productive than Japan’s at the time they began developing the system. Japan had just lost the war and was in serious economic trouble. Today, we are fat enough that we can have a couple of wars going on and still tolerate a government cutting taxes for the upper and middle classes.

Perhaps we are about to move our car-making emphasis away from large, gas-guzzling vehicles?

Permissions to reproduce the cartoons have been requested.

© Copyright 2006, Chauncey Bell and BABDI, LLC. All rights reserved worldwide.

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