Remembering Eiji Toyoda : Symbol Of Toyota Manufacturing Spirit


Remembering Eiji Toyoda : Symbol of Toyota manufacturing spiritEiji Toyoda, who died on Sept. 17 at age 100, was the symbol of the manufacturing spirit of Toyota Motor Corp., supporting the company in its pioneering years and helping it develop into one of the world's leading automakers.
Toyoda, a member of Toyota's founding family, helped the company start the nation's first full-scale automobile development. He also helped establish the lean and efficient manufacturing process known as the Toyota Production System.

Serving as president for 15 years from 1967, the longest term among company presidents, he represented the spirit that has kept a sincere attitude toward manufacturing among the company ranks.

"He laid all the groundwork for making Toyota the world’s largest automaker," said Shunzo Yamaguchi, 79, representative director of the influential Nagoya-based car dealer Kirix Group. "Without him, Japan's auto industry would not have developed."

In 1950, the automaker’s founder, Kiichiro Toyoda, resigned as president to take responsibility for a decline in company earnings and a labor dispute. The late Taizo Ishida took the chair. Under Ishida's presidency, Eiji Toyoda committed himself to rebuilding the company’s operations.

Toyoda put emphasis on morale and efficiency on the factory floor. He considered front-line workers as one of the most important resources behind Toyota’s strength.

Following a tour of U.S. automaker Ford Motor Co., Toyoda proposed that assembly workers exchange ideas to improve manufacturing processes. This resulted in the practice known today as "kaizen," continuous improvement activities by production workers, an integral part of Toyota's operations.

When the late Taiichi Ohno led efforts to introduce the Toyota Production System, including the renowned "just-in-time production" methods, it was Toyoda's support that was crucial in establishing the system.

"All capital investments Toyota made since the Korean War (1950-1953) were at the hands of Eiji," Ishida once wrote.

In 1959, operations began at the automaker's Motomachi plant in Toyota, Aichi Prefecture. It was the nation's first factory specifically designed to produce passenger vehicles, and Toyoda believed that motorization of Japanese society was just around the corner.

“The state of Japanese society (allowed us to embark on mass production)," Toyoda once said, looking back on those days. "I was able to pick up on the atmosphere. I have a good nose."

The Motomachi plant was capable of producing 5,000 vehicles a month. Building such a large capacity plant was a high-stakes gamble because monthly sales of the high-end Crown model were only 2,000.

Still, the plant opened two years before rival Nissan Motor Co.'s Oppama plant in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, more or less determining the subsequent differences in strengths between the two companies.

"His decision was always a step ahead of ordinary people," said Yukihisa Hirano, 75, a former Toyota executive who worked under Toyoda and later became president of Central Japan International Airport Co. "Toyota did not have the strength it now has. I guess each decision he made required a lot of courage."

Despite two oil crises and a strong yen, the business environment during Toyoda's 15-year presidency was relatively favorable.

One of the unexpected challenges was emission control regulations. Toyoda bore the brunt of criticism from lawmakers and mass media as chairman of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association.

For all his innovative business approaches, Toyoda was conservative in some aspects, such as a reduction in working hours for his employees.

"Not working means becoming poor," he said.

In the 1980s, when trade friction flared up with the United States, Toyota lagged behind Honda Motor Co. and Nissan in shifting production stateside. But Toyoda eventually partnered with U.S. giant General Motors Corp. and set up a joint venture, New United Motor Manufacturing Inc., to start overseas production.

In his later years, the Toyota group established the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology in Nagoya to raise awareness about the importance of manufacturing. The decision showed Toyoda's concerns that Japan's manufacturing industry would hollow out.

He also founded Genesis Research Institute Inc. on the museum premises. The research center was among the first to study state-of-the-art environmental technologies, such as biomass fuel and carbon nanotubes.

While Toyota is expected to sell 10 million vehicles worldwide, including those built by subsidiaries, and also post a record group profit for the current fiscal year, domestic production has continued to shrink.

"Manufacturing means creating new values, and it is the origin of civilization," Toyoda said in 1989. "Given the condition of the U.S economy, it is clear that once the manufacturing industry hollows out, restoring it will not be easy."

The remark made by Toyoda, who established the foundation of Toyota's domestic production, carries all the more weight today for the Japanese automaker.

AJW