Getting the Toyota message out to the world

Masami Doi, Project General Manager, Public Affairs Division Toyota Motor Corp


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.

  • -2


    What a great place to be! Toyota is poised to dominate and consolidate their position as the world's top automaker. Great symbol of what every company in Japan and there are many greats, could aspire to.

  • 1


    FInal question: Would you like to thank the Japanese taxpayer for subsidising your car sales? Until now you have overlooked that.

  • 3

    Hunter Brumfield

    Sorry, after owning a number of cars (Karmann Ghia (sweet), Studebaker (classic), VW Bug (yay!), Vega (gag), Dodge Aspen (double gag!), Mitsubishi compact (so-so) I am a huge Toyota fan, so have to say something.

    My previous Toyota was bought new and by the time it was 18 years old was only in the shop once for an aircon charge and regular maintenance. Absolutely loved it. New one is a hybrid and just sips gas. I expect this one will be my last, but who knows?

  • 4


    Moonraker, care to explain that for those of us that are wondering what you are referring to?

  • 1


    Yes, albaleo. Remember the subsidised rebate for allegedly eco cars that ran for a couple of years? I think it amounted to around US$8 billion-worth, much of which benefitted Toyota, in many cases for cars that were just regular cars. That was in effect a taxpayer subsidy. Toyota never once came out and acknowledged this largesse. As a "national champion" working mightily "on behalf of Japan" and major spender on advertising and PR it can manipulate the media and its image. And, of course, Toyota is no stranger to corporate welfare. What it wants it usually gets, often because its officials are high up in Keidanren, if not, at the very top (Okuda). Who do you imagine a low yen policy primarily benefits? And who will pay for it?

  • 0

    Shi Yuehan

    Informative interview, thanks.

  • 3

    Hunter Brumfield


    I looked through your previous posts on Toyota, all quite negative.

    Not sure whether you were around when all those the massive "boats" were being piloted through the congested, fume-filled streets of 1970s America just before Toyota came out with significantly more gas-efficient and much smaller, far better-made cars.

    I was a newspaper editorial writer in those days and attended a conference in Detroit at which I heard the head of GM proclaim that "Americans simply will not buy smaller cars." The next year Toyota began the climb that eventually devastated the U.S. automotive industry precisely because we DID want more efficient, better-designed cars, and Toyota showed us how. They still are.

    In an earlier post you called Toyota's ecological efforts a "con," and your other comments seem convincing but they are clearly wrong. I had two of the worst U.S.-made cars, both of which were total design disasters. I have had two Toyotas and I used to often thank my Marino (a version of the Carolla) for starting so easily for 18 years. Not a single hiccup in all that time. The Aqua Hybrid we now have promises to be its equal, but with twice the fuel efficiency.

    I have no particular affiliation with Toyota, other than as a highly satisfied owner with past maddening experience with some horrible American lemons. I applaud Toyota for taking the hybrids and lighter vehicles to the next new level. I sure hope Detroit has finally learned its lesson.

    How you or anyone else could criticize Toyota so vehemently on ecological grounds strikes an odd chord with me.

  • 0


    @Hunter Brumfield

    You might like to show me where my "seemingly convincing" comments are "clearly wrong". There are two points I make. One is that Toyota is not green. The other is that it is a big recipient of corporate welfare and taxpayer largesse.

    Perhaps I have much higher standards for what might be called environmentally sound than just comparison with the gas-guzzling junk that Detroit has pumped out. And the fact that something was a "design disaster" is neither here nor there for my argument. Nor, sadly, is your own customer satisfaction.

    I also object to being co-opted into a scheme to subsidise cars on the spurious grounds they are eco just to support a company whose overall output in an environmental disaster however you look at it. This meant that even those who were eco enough to see the benefit of reducing car reliance altogether were having to subsidise a monster.

    Toyota has carefully manufactured an image in Japan that is never challenged. This piece itself is part of that PR campaign. Toyota probably holds a very similar position in Japan now to that held by GM in the 1950s and early 1960s in terms of influence and political power (and, let's face it, also in terms of product demand). I would even go so far as to say that Japan would be better off without them altogether but that is taboo here. They help skew industrial policy to an unreasonable extent in a country that probably, for its own vitality, needs very much less industrial policy and very much less generosity towards its traditional exporters.

  • 0


    Thanks, Moonraker. Fair point. I'm not in Japan these days, so wasn't aware of the details. It seems the package came to about $3 billion (assuming it was all used). There were similar programs in Europe and the US. It could be argued that this didn't specifically benefit Toyota but the car industry as a whole, so including Toyota's competitors. I was strongly against the scheme in the UK, but purely for selfish reasons. You had to have a 10-year old car to trade in. I missed out by three years.

    I have a fondness for Toyota. This is mainly from my experience working there in the mid 1990s (teaching English, although we called it something fancier - Work Instruction For Overseas Production Staff or something like that). I'd worked at many Japanese manufacturing companies before, and wasn't really looking forward to going to Toyota. I was expecting the arrogance you sometimes see in large companies. My experience was just the opposite. I met a lot of humble, funny individuals who could make jokes about their own company. While I always expect that from the engineers, this extended to the normally hated HR people too. It was quite refreshing. Admittedly, the economic rot hadn't fully set in then, so we were all still riding the tail of the bubble.

    On the other hand, I drive a Nissan these days. It was made in the nearest auto plant to my home. Shouldn't I get an eco rebate for that? :-)

  • 0


    I think you will find, albaleo, that that US$3 billion was for one year. The total was closer to my original figure. But it turned out that it was not just Priuses and other allegedly "eco" cars that were seeing rebates but even the Crowns. Funnily enough, foreign models seemed not quite able to fit the carefully selected criteria (even though Toyota later turned to BMW for "clean" diesels, presumably for customers who had seen through the hybrid scam. Here in Japan, diesels have a similar reputation to the way trucks might have had in the 1970s in the UK and little is done to alter that, considering all the best diesel tech is with European companies).

    Yes, I have met some nice people from all walks of life but institutions are different beasts.

  • 1

    Hunter Brumfield


    Drove 26 km roundtrip to the American Embassy today and the digital marker on the Aqua's gas gauge did not noticeably move. That means it probably used less gasoline than a lawn mower as we depended largely on battery power in the self-charging system.

    So how is Toyota not "green?"

    I had my previous Toyota 18 years, as I have said. The quoted figure I just saw is that Americans change cars every 3 years. So that should have been 6 cars, but I never felt the need to trade it in as I have before. It just worked too well.

    So how is Toyota not "green?"

    Your other "point" is conservative claptrap. Give it a rest.

  • -1


    @Hunter Brumfield - as a foreigner in Japan you are in the minority, and you won't find many Japanese people in Tokyo or anywhere else who keep their cars more than three years - let alone 18. The outrageous shaken system which has little to do with car safety (designed to keep Toyota and Nissan afloat) keeps them buying new cars even when they've done no more than 30,000 km.

    As for the green thing - have you ever seen the data on the environmental cost of putting a Prius or your 'Aqua' on the road? You should look into the environmental cost of the batteries alone. And how long will those batteries last - 18 years? I don't think so. Then they have to be disposed of and won't seem very eco at that point - you'll be charged for recycling - or I should say that the rest of us will have to subsidise hybrid recycling. Hybrids haven't been on the road long enough for anyone to raise the point of what is going to be done with the multitude of non-eco battery cells in every single hybrid when they no longer accept a decent charge. And if you intend to keep your "eco" Aqua for 18 years you'd better start putting money into an annuity fund for replacing them all as they won't be available cheaply in Autobacs and Yellow Hat. Or you could probably buy a nice new German diesel for the same price as a Toyota + extra batteries which would last for several 100,000's of KMs and have a bit of decent style, handling and driveability thrown in for your money while your at it. but I suppose being German and understated it wouldn't have smug ECO lettering and green leaves somewhere on the bodywork to make the buyer look caring in the traffic and to disguise the fact that they're as ugly as sin.

  • 1

    Hunter Brumfield


    Last year, Consumer Reports compared a 2002 Prius with 206,000 miles with the results that it had collected 10 years earlier on a nearly identical 2001 Prius that had only 2,000 miles. There was barely any difference in fuel efficiency. The near-mint 2001 model had logged 40.6 m.p.g., while the aging 2002 Prius averaged 40.4 m.p.g. -- Christian Science Monitor

    While this article notes that in earlier hybrids there were battery issues, improved design stopped that.

    My car is presently averaging 17.2 km per liter = 40.46 mpg (city)

    The numbers are pretty clear, rounding the miles given above, and using our car's mpg:

    200,000 divided by 40.46 mpg = 5,091 gallons @ $3 = $15,274

    200,000 divided by 20 mpg = 10,000 gallons @ $3 = $30,000

    Price of replacement battery = $4,200 (or less)

    In Japan the cost of gas is more than twice that -- so your fuel savings are more than the purchase price of a new car at our Tokyo dealer (roughly $20,000).

    Here's the article in Christian Science Monitor:

  • 0

    Get Real


    you won't find many Japanese people in Tokyo or anywhere else who keep their cars more than three years

    Been away a while? The Shaken car inspection system was reformed in July 1995, following which the average age of cars here steadily rose from 3 to 7.5 years.

    I have a fondness for torquey diesels myself. However mineral diesel, despite DPF technology, remains a greenhouse gas-emitting fuel, albeit one that outperforms gasoline.

    However, let's consider hybrids an interim technology between internal combustion and zero emission vehicles.

    Electric cars are largely greenwash, shifting emissions from tailpipe to smoke stack, and I'm delighted that they'll be leapfrogged by hydrogen fuel cells, with models available to buy from 2015.

    This tech allows oil companies and governments to exploit current supply chain and revenue streams (as with leaded fuels in the past, discourage petroleum, incentivize hydrogen), with little or no consumer behavior change required. In short, politicians and Big Oil have no excuses to not get their finger out and help save the planet.

    Thanks, Doi-san!

  • 2

    Hunter Brumfield

    Get Real:

    You are right on the most part.

    However: Hybrids are not reliant on smokestack electricity. They charge themselves largely through braking action. All that forward momentum, or a lot of it, is converted into electricity. It seems almost magical to watch the battery status display as all that happens (no, I am NOT always driving!).

    I really like your main point that we are in a transition stage. At some point there will be no reliance on fossil energy and there will be a combination of public transport and private "zero fuel," "zero emission" cars. Whether it is Toyota or another automaker is to be seen. But we should expect the major car companies to try (and maybe occasionally fail) while the government helps to ease the way with tax breaks and the like.

  • 0


    I have a Toyota and while I'm happy with the decent gas mileage, I am under no illusion that it is a superior car. Toyota takes a lot of shortcuts on materials. Do you ever notice how many Toyotas are driving around with a missing hubcap?

  • 0

    Hide Suzuki


    yawn, wake me up when another company builds a car that gives you better gas mileage than Prius. No, 100% electric vehicles won't do it, I don't have time to wait for a few hours to recharge a car.

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