As general manager for the Public Affairs Division of Toyota Motor Corp, Masami Doi is pretty much asked by media about every possible aspect of the auto giant’s business – whether it is Toyota’s commitment to the Tohoku, China, the strong yen, recalls, automotive technology, cars of the future, how Toyota names its cars or “Abenomics.”
Born in Kyoto, Doi graduated from Osaka University for Foreign Studies and joined Toyota in 1983. Japan Today sits down with Doi at the Toyota office in Tokyo to hear more.
What are the most common questions you get asked by journalists?
Recently, the March 11, 2011 disaster and what Toyota is doing to help revitalize the region. After that, the effect of the strong yen has been the most frequent question.
How is Toyota contributing to the Tohoku recovery effort?
After the quake, we established a task force. Toyota President Akio Toyoda outlined three priorities. The first was protecting human life; No. 2 was long-term support for the region; and No. 3 was to rebuild our operations.
We had to stop production for one month because we supported almost 200 small suppliers. These are small-parts manufacturers and without them, we could not make one car. After restarting the production, we considered how to support the region from a long-term perspective. We decided to establish a production center in Tohoku. We call it the “Toyota third production center in Japan”. We shifted some production from Toyota City and established infrastructure for the automotive industry. First, we set up a school to train young people in technical skills, and then we established a supply-purchasing center. Finally, we combined three affiliated manufacturers to become a big company, Toyota Motor East Japan. The school was launched earlier this month.
The last few years have been very difficult for Japanese manufacturers – the Lehman Shock, recalls in the U.S., floods in Thailand, trouble in China, the disaster and the strong yen. You must wake up some mornings and wonder what’s next?
Well, one way to look at it is that such challenges make us a stronger company. From my team’s point of view, we rise to challenges and dealing with them can be quite exciting. Fortunately, we have had a very strong leader. Mr Toyoda has a clear vision and makes sure the company never loses sight of it. When you have that, you have confidence to rise again and again, no matter what crises occur.
How are you coping with the yen fluctuations?
The biggest problem of the strong yen is not us but our supply chain. Small manufacturers, which are crucial to our business, have been hit hard over the past few years by the Lehman Shock, earthquake and subsequent power restrictions, and then the strong yen. Many big manufacturers started to import parts from overseas, which meant these small companies had to compete with imports. That was very tough.
However, Mr Toyoda, who is also chairman of JAMA (Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association), said that it was important to keep production in Japan and preserve the Japanese production and supply-chain system. If Toyota moved production abroad because of the strong yen, and started exporting cars back to Japan, we would be dismissing Japanese small manufacturers who have very good technology, competitiveness and skilled people. It’s very difficult to come back and revive such a system once you move abroad. So we stayed in Japan. That was a very helpful message for the Japanese small manufactures, I think.
What do you think about “Abenomics?”
The media talk about three arrows of “Abenomics”—monetary policy easing, stimulus package, and mid and long-term growth strategy. The first two arrows are short-term; the third is long-term and most important for manufacturers like us. Manufacturers put emphasis on sustainable growth and that goes together with the third arrow. The yen-dollar exchange rate is now back to its pre-Lehman Shock level. So the third arrow, which is under discussion in the government, should be the center of “Abenomics” from now on.
What about China?
Our sales are recovering to the normal level in China after last year’s trouble. The market is currently the biggest in the world and we have been there for 50 years. Our friendship is very robust. We are producing cars for Chinese people, by Chinese people. We will continue to invest in China.
What have you learned from the recalls in the U.S.?
It’s true that from 2009-2010, we recalled a lot of cars in the U.S. and we must apologize to customers who had their cars recalled. Since then, we have changed our system. We established a CQO (chief quality officer) system in each region – U.S., Europe, Asia. That CQO must communicate to customers and dealers faster and more precisely. Information collected is then reported to top management very speedily. The CQO can call Mr Toyoda directly, if necessary.
What direction is car technology of the future heading in?
Environmentally-friendly technology is most important. Toyota’s Prius – the first mass production hybrid car in the world – has passed the 5-million mark in sales. In Japan, last year, 40% of Toyota sales were hybrid cars. The current hybrid system is one-third of the cost of when we started development of hybrid technology.
Electric vehicles (EVs) are still not viable on a mass scale because you need more battery charging stations. They are better for use in urban areas, by post offices or taxi operators. From here on, we will be focusing on fuel-cell technology and maybe in 2015, we could market a fuel-cell car at an affordable price.
How does Toyota decide the names of its cars?
Car names are not decided by just one or two people. It is a consensus-based decision-making process. I know that sometimes the names sound weird in English but the point is how it sounds to Japanese people, not foreigners in Japan. However, we are paying more attention to how the name sounds to foreigners and we do have foreign staff to help advise us on names.
What is a typical day for you?
I show up here about 8 a.m. I’m in the office about 50% of the time. I have a lot of meetings with media and do some wining and dining in the evenings.
How do you like to relax?
I like to jog and read books and I am helping a sake producer in Kyoto. I am the chairman of the Kinshi-Masamune preservation club. Kinshi-Masamune is a very famous and traditional Japanese sake brand in Kyoto, which is my home town. The company has a 250-year history. But these days, Japanese young people don’t drink sake as much as previous generations. As a result, the company has to cut down its operation, including shutting the museum just near the Kyoto Imperial Palace. I am working to preserve the museum and promote Japanese sake more overseas.