TOYOTATIMES

Akio Toyoda Visits Office Housing Inter-Company Unit Developing BEVs: Part 2

TOYOTA NEWS 2019.12.18

Akio makes a visit to a special unit called the "ZEV B&D Lab," which examines both BEV product development and business implications of ZEVs -- but not all members are from Toyota.

Question
The first goal of this organization is to deliver appealing BEVs to customers, of course. At the same time, I believe the organizational structure is also aimed at fostering innovative development processes.
If there is anything else you expect from this ZEV B&D Lab, I’d like you to share your views with everyone here today.

Akio
This needs to be a place that is all about “having an attitude of mutual learning” and being able to say “Thank you.” Instead, it is probably more of a workplace where people might be saying things such as, “Which one of us knows more?”, “Who knows more?” or “I’m better, aren’t I, because I know more?” People are saying things like that as it is now, right?

(Team member who asked the question)
Yes.

Akio

In a way, it’s not a terrible thing to think you’re great, but the moment you do, you stop improving. That’s my personal opinion.

If you think there are people even better than you, you maintain your curiosity, and it keeps you hungry for more. That’s the kind of work environment I want this to be.

My first impression after coming here today is that it’s not clear who comes from where – and I think that’s a good thing. The presence of all kinds of people, from those with a lot of experience to younger workers means that everyone can learn from one another. They can learn about everything here. So, it’s important for every single person to have this attitude.

Of course, being an organization, there are obviously people who are accountable, but I think it’s most important to eliminate all hierarchies other than that required to take responsibility, to allow people to work without regard for who is from which company, and so on.

(Team member who asked the question)
I see. Thank you very much.

The next question touched on the Tokyo Motor Show, which happened immediately prior to Akio’s visit.

Question
This also came up during the management meeting at the motor show (a talk show at the Tokyo Motor Show) the other day, but there are many types of electric cars, including HEVs, PHEVs, FCEVs and BEVs. Can you tell us what your honest opinions and feelings are on BEVs in particular?

Akio
That’s a tricky question.
Actually, I was asked, “What kind of car do you like, President Toyoda?” during my talk show with Mr. Kagawa at the Toyota booth.

I had to take a moment to think about how I was going to answer the question. But with Mr. Kagawa beside me, I decided to tell the truth, and said, “A car that is noisy and smells of gasoline”. Of course, this created buzz on social media.

Normally, people would say, “An environmentally friendly car, and self-driving, too.” But I want to share with everyone the reason I didn’t say this. I’m an old-fashioned person. I like cars and for me, cars are all about their noise and smell…. that kind of grittiness is something I love. But still, as someone who loves cars, I am also actively trying to promote CASE, and especially the electrification of cars. I once had the opportunity to ride in an BEV edition of the 86, and was asked what I thought of it. My impression at the time was, “It feels like an electric car.”

It’s possible that all electric cars might end up having the same feel to them. But this is something I personally want to avoid (as a person who loves cars). I want to make sure we can offer a touch of originality or value unique to the brand as an OEM, regardless of whether we produce BEVs, FCEVs, quiet cars, or eco-friendly cars. That’s precisely what I want the people of this division to strive for. I think there’s a danger of electric vehicles becoming a mere commodity.

But what kind of electrified vehicle would prevent this? That’s the kind of car I want you to create. I hope the BEVs developed here will make people say, “You know a Toyota when you see it and this is a real Toyota.” I don’t know how you’ll achieve that. I really don’t, but that’s the kind of car I want you to strive to create.

(Team member who asked the question)
Thank you.

The next person that raised their hand was a member of the team from Subaru, who had been seconded, or assigned, to Toyota to take part in the development.

Question
It’s been about a year since I came here from Subaru, and I’ve noticed a difference in corporate culture between Toyota and Subaru. How do you feel about Subaru’s employees and its corporate culture? Please share any thoughts you might have.

Akio
I visited the Technical Center in Mitaka the other day with President Nakamura (of Subaru) after we announced our business alliance. This is a question that I’m always asked when I go there. My impression of Subaru as a whole is that all the employees feel a strong love for Subaru. They love the company, as well as its cars. If Subaru’s originality lies in its boxer engines and 4WDs, they have a love for those, too. That’s my impression of Subaru. But there is one drawback, I think, and that is its stubbornness.

When I visited Subaru’s Head Office in Ebisu, one of the employees said to me, “Mr. Toyoda, you’ve seen a lot, but you only mention the good things about Subaru. Tell us what you think our shortcomings are.” So, I answered, “People have their strengths and weaknesses. If I had the choice of becoming a person with 99 weaknesses and one strength, or a person with 99 strengths and one weakness, well, I’m actually someone with 99 weaknesses, so I would take my one strength and hone it to the point that no one could outdo me in that regard.”

You often find people like that, right? People who are good overall, but have one shortcoming that you can’t ignore? I told the employee that I didn’t want to become someone like that. So, Subaru employees should continue loving Subaru, their 4WDs and their boxer engines. Then the employee asked me, “Your reply makes me want to know even more what you think Subaru’s shortcomings are.”

So, I immediately responded, “It’s that stubbornness!” Everyone seemed satisfied with my answer.

Stubbornness can be a shortcoming, but I also believe it can be a strength. That stubbornness may also be persistence. We (Toyota) formed an alliance on an even footing by mutually agreeing to share our strengths. I believe the top executives of Subaru, led by President Nakamura, made a very bold decision. That’s why it’s extremely important for us to work together like this, and I would like to ask everyone for their cooperation.

President Nakamura will be coming to visit this office. When I took a tour of Subaru’s office, President Nakamura told me to invite him to one of Toyota’s offices in return. So, I have a request for everyone. When President Nakamura comes, I want everyone to say, “Welcome,” to him in unison. It’ll be much easier to talk to him after that. I don’t even care if it’s completely staged. I want you to say this as soon as you see President Nakamura, and do it like it’s something you do all the time. Just say, “Welcome”.

In the next and final article of this series, coverage will focus on Akio's thoughts about selling cars, as well as his response to a team member about training.

Related links:
Akio Toyoda Visits Office Housing Inter-Company Unit Developing BEVs: Part 1
Akio Toyoda Visits Office Housing Inter-Company Unit Developing BEVs: Part 3

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