Yoko Kubota of Reuters had already written half of her story before we boarded a bus this Tokyo morning. It took us north to Nissan’s Tochigi plant, where we were promised to see the new Infiniti Q50 roll off the assembly lines. Kubota wrote that “in the financial year ended March, Infiniti sold 172,615 vehicles globally, up 12.1 percent year-on-year,” that the brand needs to grow, that the backbone of Infiniti’s volume has been the G37 Sedan, and that its successor, “with a new name Q50, will go on sale in the United States in the summer.” Today, we see how the Q50 is made.
Built in 1968, the Tochigi plant in Kaminokawa, a two-hour drive from Tokyo, is the backbone of Infiniti. Finished cars go from there to the port of Hitachi, and most of them go straight to Los Angeles, where, as Kubota-san has written, “nearly 14 years after the launch of its first car, the Q45 luxury sedan, Infiniti continues to be largely a U.S.- centric brand with meager overseas sales.”
Before we see the plant at work, we see the first real Q50. It rolls on stage with the usual aplomb customary for such a line-off. Plant manager Ryoji Kurosawa is pleased, while CEO Ghosn backslaps a representative of the workforce.
Photo-op with the boss.
And the car without people in front.
Ghosn is here with his personal translator, Yuki Morimoto. When he addresses the workers, he speaks in Japanese.
The workers like it.
The workers sit on the shop floor when the boss speaks. This is not a sit-in, and it is not unusual at all in Japan. There is a lot of sitting and kneeling on the floor. Can you imagine what would have happened in a UAW shop?
You can sit on, and, if necessary, eat off the floor because it is immaculate. The slippers are here for a reason.
In other plants, one might be forced wearing shoes with steel caps. In Tochigi, you see a sign that forbids the wearing of shoes at all. The shop is as sacrosanct as a Japanese house, where no one would dare to soil the serenity of the home by wearing shoes. It has been that way for thousands of year, and it won’t change. Footwear is removed at the entrance to help keep the house clean.
This rule applies to all. Even the CEO and his translator would not dare to desecrate the clean shop floor by wearing shoes.
On to the next part of the plant.
This is where the front end goes on the car. It is done with a jig. The jig is cleverly hidden by a cart with parts. The cart zooms in front of me whenever I lift the camera.
Actually, taking pictures is not allowed in this part, and I am nonverbally reminded of that by Infiniti chief Johan de Nysschen. You met him a while ago.
We see how quality checkers probe the surface of the car for impurities that can’t be seen, but felt with the touch of a thinly gloved hand.
CEO Ghosn tries his hand as a quality checker while Murimoto-san translates, and while Infiniti-chief Johan de Nysschen looks away.
Soon, this car will be en-route to America, where it is “scheduled to go on sale in summer,” as Ghosn promises. On the bus, en-route back to Tokyo, Yuko Kubota already had her story on the wire. I wish I’d be half as fast.
In case you wish more driving impressions and less arm waving, I refer you to a test drive presented by someone who is far more attractive than yours truly.