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Mr. Toyota Goes to Washington

By Jon Miller Published on August 11th, 2005

The August 12, 2005 article in the Wall Street Journal titled “Toyota Lobbies to Avoid Blame Amid U.S. Auto Industry Woes” explains how Toyota is adding a sixth lobbyist in Washington D.C. in an effort to avoid being bashed for the woes of Ford and General Motors in the near future.
Toyota is aiming to increase market share in the U.S. to 15% by 2008. Toyota wants to overtake GM and be number one. Toyota has never missed such stated goals. This will come at the expense of GM and Ford’s market shares and this will likely result in plant closures and displaced workers at American automobile giants.
But this is 2005. It’s been nearly 20 years since the sledgehammer-to-the-hood Japan-bashing was at its peak. Could that same combination of fear and ignorance that led to smashed imports come back? Is Japan-bashing still a real concern in the U.S.A.?
At a rural county fair not far from our office there’s a demolition derby that happens each autumn and one of the highlights is when everyone rams and destroys a Honda vehicle. Perhaps Hondas are really fun to demolish and the fact that Honda is a Japanese brand is irrelevant.
One of our consultants recently returned from a visit to a customer in Michigan where a Lean trainer there told how she was pressured by her co-workers into trading in her Toyota for an American car. She bought a Kia from the Ford dealership. The Toyota was built in the U.S.A. The Kia was not.
If the argument is that Toyota’s profits are ultimately repatriated to Japan that’s true, but this is after paying American taxes. And what’s more, if this profit allows Toyota to build more factories in America and hire more U.S. workers, what’s not to like?
One of our clients from the Detroit area came to us this year explicitly stating “We want to be a Toyota supplier. We see that this is our future.” Toyota people visited them told them ‘no’ due to the instability of their production system. So this company came to us looking for help in rapidly implementing TPS to improve quality, lead-times, and cost and qualify as a Toyota supplier.
Are these indicators of Toyota and other Japanese firms becoming more a part of the fabric of American society, or less? I don’t have the answer, but Toyota brass seem to want some insurance. According to the article they are trying to build a “Toyota caucus” of politicians from a dozen or so states with Toyota operations in order to avoid becoming the scapegoat for Detroit’s troubles.
Hopefully Toyota’s concern for the need to lobby politicians in unnecessary and the money they are spending on lobbyists is muda (Japanese word for waste). But since we have these Toyota lobbyists in Washington, why not have them spend some of the time lobbying our politicians on cutting out the waste of taxpayers’ money. Tell them about something called Lean government.

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