China: Learn From Toyota!

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt
china learn from toyota

According to popular wisdom, the Chinese have no love lost for the Japanese. So wouldn’t it stand to reason that China would jump on the “down with Toyota” bandwagon with 2.6b feet? Just the opposite is true. The Chinese government urges caution, tells its auto industry to watch and learn, and to step up its quality. What’s going on here?

Frustrated Associated Press already complained that “China’s state-controlled media have made only muted comment on the recalls, in contrast to the blistering criticism Toyoda faced from American lawmakers.”

Now, an unsigned op-ed piece, ostensibly written by someone right at the top, appeared in China’s party newspaper People’s Daily, and was beamed around the world by China’s state-controlled news agency Xinhua. The piece doesn’t pile on Toyota. It exhorts China’s auto manufacturers to learn from Toyota’s troubles and to avoid falling into the same trap.

Toyota president Akio Toyoda’s deep bow to customers in the world’s largest auto market on Monday might not assuage the worries of purchasers of the car bearing his name, but his damage-control move was an example for Chinese auto makers who are drastically expanding production.

The “Toyota production system” was held up as the textbook method in the auto industry. However, super efficiency and quality proved to be incompatible. Toyoda admitted sticky accelerator pedals and other flaws that led to massive car recalls were related to the company’s speedy expansion in North America.

China witnessed a nearly 50-percent jump both in vehicle production and sales last year, making its auto industry a target for outside investment. However, complaints about vehicle quality from Chinese auto owners in 2009 increased by 40 percent, almost equal to the rise in output.

If Toyota — a veteran producer with a history of more than 70 years — made mistakes when it relaxed quality control, Chinese newcomers in the industry have no excuses for failing to pay full attention to monitoring their production lines.

The article appeared in Chinese in just about every Chinese newspaper, the English version was picked up in the Asian press. Even China’s Ministry of Commerce runs the article on their website. Reaction in the Western media was – how did AP put it? – muted. If it doesn’t fit the cliché that China hates Japan and likewise, and that China’s mission is to poison our dogs, children and dry-walls, then why confuse the dear reader?

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3 of 11 comments
  • John Horner John Horner on Mar 05, 2010

    Ah, now if only we all lived in countries with state owned media and state owned manufacturers. Then we could all be smart and reasonable like the Chinese.

  • TonyJZX TonyJZX on Mar 05, 2010

    both china and the US have state owned car manuafacturers... try again and as for state owned media... i much prefer the BBC and PBS to the wonderful Faux News (thanks to the fake American Rupert Murdoch)

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