TOYOTATIMES

What we can do now for the future – An urgent online interview with President Akio Toyoda

What we can do now for the future – An urgent online interview with President Akio Toyoda

FROM THE EDITOR 2020.04.16

INDEX

In the midst of the continuing spread of COVID-19, Akio Toyoda, in his role as chairman of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA), spoke at a press conference, representing four associations related to automobile manufacturing, including JAMA, the Japan Auto Parts Industries Association, the Japan Auto-Body Industries Association Inc., and the Japan Automotive Machinery and Tool Manufacturers Association.

At the press conference, the theme of Akio’s speech was “What the automotive industry can do as a whole to overcome this current crisis”. He shared a strong heartfelt message reaffirming that the automobile industry will come together as a whole to overcome this current crisis.

Immediately following the press conference, Teruyuki Kagawa, the Editor-in-Chief at Toyota Times conducted an urgent interview with Akio Toyoda. The format this time? An online interview. His goal was to learn more about what Akio is thinking as the world faces a crisis of this magnitude.

Kagawa

Is this on? Yes, it is. The time has finally come when I must push all the buttons myself. Camera one, okay? Camera two, camera three, camera four, all okay. I've got the one for self-recording as well.

Teruyuki Kagawa, Editor-in-Chief at Toyota Times. Today, Toyota President and JAMA Chairman Akio Toyoda will be giving an online press conference, and I want to also use this opportunity to interview him remotely through this computer monitor.

Before that, take a look! The windows are fully open. Let me share the 360-degree panoramic view. I’m the only one in here. Regardless of the situation, as the editor, I need to continue to report on what Toyota’s stance is as a company.

It seems that the press conference is about to start. Oh wait! Where are my reading glasses…here they are. It’s starting now.

Doing whatever is needful (from JAMA press conference)

<JAMA press conference on April 10>

Gratitude to healthcare workers and others fighting for us / How we can help support the healthcare system

Thank you all for coming on such short notice.

Today, the three associations related to automobile manufacturing who have just been mentioned are joining us in addition to our own JAMA members.

First, I would like to thank all those working in the areas of healthcare and in logistics and transportation who have been working diligently to support our lives, and their families who support them from the bottom of my heart.

Today we plan to talk about topics we should be thinking about moving forward, and includes our “thoughts” and “declarations.” While nothing has been officially decided, by discussing our thoughts, there may be people who will raise their hands and are willing to do the things we suggest together with us.

Self-sufficient production of face masks for internal use / Medical support / Support improvement activities for ventilator equipment production

To help support the healthcare system, the first action item we have come up with is to produce face masks within the automobile industry. However, we have not secured the quality or quantity for wide distribution yet. Instead, we intend to use them for our own employees to protect ourselves. We believe even this can help ease the pressure on the supply chain for face masks by reducing the amount we procure from the market.

Among our companies, we also have vacant dormitories and recreational facilities. Depending on the situation, we would consider using these facilities for mildly infected patients.

We are also aware that there are some expectations regarding the production of ventilators. However, this is medical equipment that is directly connected with human life. As automobiles are also products that are related to human life, we understand how difficult it is to make things relating to life or death. This is no simple task. To support these manufacturers, we will do what we can to support increased production by utilizing our know-how.

While not directly related to human life, we will respond to needs such as “providing vehicles necessary for transporting patients,” “vehicle modifications to support patient transport,” and the production of “bed parts for use in hospitals among other parts.”

New attempt to not lose monozukuri (making things)

Now, as a situation where cars cannot be sold continues, we may face a situation where some of our partners may not be able to continue operation. However, amidst this situation, looking to the future, the underlying technology cannot be lost, and there are people with expertise that no machines can ever copy. Ultimately, our idea is to create a system like a “mutual aid” association that will protect such people’s employment.

We would like to consider aid that has a program to match all kinds of resources, going beyond each company and within the auto industry to sustain skilled people.

To illustrate using boxing as an example, I would say we are currently at the clinch phase.

We are constantly being attacked. We cannot go outside, and most people, I believe, have rediscovered the joys of moving. We would like to be the most powerful force that would swiftly recover the economy, once the current situation of COVID-19 settles down.

End of press conference.
*For the remarks in their entirety, please read this article.

Kagawa

The press conference has just finished. I can see, observing everybody’s faces, that the contents of today's press conference were very serious. Even I felt many things as I watched the hour-long press conference. I have been granted a chance to speak with Akio Toyoda directly now that it is over, and, as you can see, I have prepared a number of questions. Time to get started.

Thinking of the next course of action while bearing the current situation

Kagawa

So, it looks like I have connected with Akio Toyoda, President of Toyota Motor Corporation. The press conference has just finished, so I would like to start the online interview.

Akio

Yes, I am here. Good afternoon.

Kagawa

Hi. I’m sure you must be very tired with all that is going on, but I appreciate you taking some time to answer a few questions. First, you conducted today’s press conference not as the president of Toyota, but as the chairman of the JAMA. What is the significance of that?

Akio

It’s an uneasy time, both in the automotive industry and the world at large. Look, this is no one’s fault. Nobody can be blamed. We have to think seriously about what exactly is happening right now, but we need to avoid playing irresponsible guessing games and becoming too pessimistic.

Kagawa-san, you like boxing, right? In the case of boxing…

Kagawa

I heard you made a reference to boxing today…

Akio

Yes. Right now, it is like we are in a clinch. We are in a clinch and being continuously hit with all these punches. What do you do when you are being hit? It’s all over if you are fatally hit.

Kagawa

Right. It’s a situation where if you go to throw a punch yourself, you will probably be hit with a counterpunch.

Akio

So, how can we avoid being fatally injured? We must protect ourselves. We are protecting our manufacturing foundation. We have people who have technical skills and capabilities. If we lose that foundation, the result could be a lethal outcome.

So, we just have to persevere and endure. No one knows when all this will end, but we must hang in there. While we endure, we should calmly observe the opponent. So, while preserving strength, I believe now is the time to think about the next course of action.

Kagawa

I see. Kind of like a rest round (in boxing).

Akio

Right. So, when the time is right, we want the auto industry to be the leading driver. However, Toyota, as one company, cannot fulfill the role of being a driving force on its own.

As an industry, we have to come together as one with our partners, including those you saw today, like the parts industries, auto-body industries, the group that makes equipment for vehicle maintainance. Without that, we will not be able to be a driving force for recovery and may end up facing an even more serious situation.

Surely human beings will eventually overcome the COVID-19 situation. One day we will go on the offensive. So, now is the time to prepare for that, to do what needs to be done. To carry that out, we must all work together. Not the same “coming together” as what I meant for Woven City, but I think we did something similar today.

Kagawa

Yes, I understand. As we are currently in this situation, one economist once said something to the effect of “Do you guard against this illness to the point of destroying the economy to save human life?” There were some very extreme opinions shared.

I think “economic death” or “human death” continues to be debated for some time. What do you think is the balance that must be strived for? Or, in other words, how do you weigh these two alternatives?

Akio

I don’t want to sound grandiose or anything but weighing the merits of one against the other is nonsense. Both are essential.

Kagawa

Go on.

Akio

You need human life to build an economy. Even if you could build some kind of an economy, one that sacrifices human life is useless.

Kagawa

Right.

Akio

So, it is not a matter of choosing between the two. Both are necessary, as if they were the wheels of a car. It is not about this one before that one either. The important point is for both wheels to continue living (rolling) together. Thus, we have to prevent both humans and the economy from dying.

So, what is necessary right now is for each of us to do what we can do. And we should express our appreciation to those who are doing things we cannot. I think it is all about helping each other, living in a manner in which we can all say thank you to each other.

If someone is trying to do something good, we should say, “Thank you.”

Kagawa

I agree. It gives a pleasant feeling to all.

Akio

There must be things we can still do. As a car company, we are not only capable of making cars. I mean, back during the war in 1940s we also made pots and kettles.

Kagawa

I heard you say that.

Akio

Our predecessors did that. So I, too, am prepared for us to do whatever it is we have to do.

Are employees “assets” or “costs”?

Kagawa

On the other hand, there are companies that are laying off thousands of people all at once. From the perspective of Toyota, or as the chairman of JAMA, what do you think are the kinds of helping hands that can be provided? Actually, I believe there are probably some small- and medium-sized companies on the verge of collapse right now.

Akio

It all depends on how you view human resources. I know a few companies that tend to view them as a cost. However, at Toyota, top management does not look at employees as a cost, to say the least.

At Toyota we view people as assets. They are the source from which the knowledge and wisdom for “kaizen” (continuous improvement) comes.

Kagawa

The source of knowledge for kaizen…

Akio

People are. In cases like this where it’s difficult to predict what lies ahead, there are some who start by saying ‘let’s cut x-percent of people across the board.’ Some companies might see the current lack of demand and say, ‘that’s it, everyone quit your posts and let’s close the plant’. In Toyota’s case, we never want to be such a company.

Toyota remained committed to the employment of team members in the U.S. even during the global financial crisis. It comes down to how you view people. Do you treat them as a cost, or as the source of kaizen?

We view them as the source of kaizen. For those who have chosen Toyota as their workplace, by them doing their work, we want to offer them training and education to make them, the people, the real assets.

What I’m saying is that at some point COVID-19 shall pass. In the meantime, we can use this time to work on improvements, such as increasing our ability to produce 12 vehicles per hour in places we currently produce 10. With this approach, even if the stoppage lasts several months, there will be a time where we can eventually catch up and even overtake our former trajectory. So once again what truly matters is what you choose to do under these circumstances.

Kagawa

That’s very true. Earlier you used the analogy of boxing – in boxing, much of what you do while enduring each round bears fruit in the following rounds. For example, if you focus on jabbing the body or do your best to read the patterns of your opponent’s punch combinations, you will eventually see the results of those efforts. That was a very good analogy – I was quite impressed.

And at the moment it’s like we’re unable to use our legs, meaning we simply can’t move around – all we can do is cower in the corner, which makes the situation tougher.

This is tough. That’s why what you said at the end of the press conference, the part about working hard so that someday we can once again share in the joy of mobility, that really resonated with me.

Cars are vehicles that carry people’s thoughts

Akio

For example, after the Great East Japan Earthquake, when the expressway was first opened on March 26 in 2011, I drove up to the Tohoku region in an Alphard alone. We had a rule to bring food for ourselves, leave no trash, and not to bother local residents. Driving on the expressway, I came across cars with license plates from many different prefectures. Each car was packed full of cardboard boxes.

Kagawa

Water and other goods, I’m sure.

Akio

Yes, they were carrying supplies, but I also had the intense realization that they were delivering their “hearts”, or emotional relief, to worried families and people of the Tohoku region. I have never felt as strongly as I did then that a car is also a vehicle for conveying emotions. I want to keep that experience with me for the rest of my life.

Kagawa

Indeed.

Akio

So there’s nothing better than to work on tasks like those as your own job, providing almost a kind mobility for people as they are moved emotionally. That’s why we can’t let this fail.

Kagawa

We can’t let the economy or talented human resources “die” or fail.

Akio

We won’t. To do so, we must maintain and develop the places they work.

Kagawa

Your comment about the need to focus on the things we should be doing right now really struck me as well. Right now, when spirits are low and people are feeling down, it is easy to give in to that and sink lower, but what we do in times like these is really important.

Akio

What comes next is determined by this.

Kagawa

That’s really the case. The difficult times are the most important.

Akio

I think so.

Kagawa

All trials can be overcome.

Akio

There are things we can do only at a time like this.

Kagawa

I agree. That’s it, thank you very much. Thank you kindly for today.

Akio

Given the circumstances, every week I connect with colleagues around the world to share updates on various situations. COVID-19 is not only happening in Japan; it is a global crisis. We work with Toyota’s partners around the world to assist each other. We have many people overseas who are really working hard, and it would be great if you could also speak with them, to hear their stories firsthand and cheer them up.

Kagawa

Excellent, I’d love to speak with them. Thank you. And next time, I hope you and I can meet again in person. When everything has returned to normal, let’s go for a drive in a loud, gas-guzzling car.

Akio

Next time, we should take it off-road onto a gravel track. Circuits are good too, but nothing beats dirt.

Kagawa

Really, on dirt?

Akio

You’ll love it.

Kagawa

Alright, excellent. I’ll look forward to the dirt. Thank you very much for today.

Akio

Thank you very much.

There is no trial that cannot be overcome

The online interview is done now, and I feel like I was able to see for myself how Toyota is approaching this crisis, based on the insight I was able to get from my discussion with Akio Toyoda. I feel a greater understanding of the current situation and a sense of relief, assurance.

And yet, as President Toyoda pointed out, based on prior experience, the COVID-19 situation will end eventually and things will certainly return to normal. What we can do now is to keep watch as we wait for this pandemic to settle. I found this a very logical approach.

Speaking with him, I felt that we could make it through, we could endure this crisis, a feeling that is now coming more strongly than an hour earlier.

We are sure to get through it – there is no trial that cannot be overcome. As the editor for Toyota Times, I will continue to check in on the progress and help our readers to feel as though they are taking part in the journey.

In any event, as always, health comes first. By staying healthy, we can do anything.
Well everyone, stay healthy and safe! Toyota Times.

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