The Myth of Japanese Efficiency

The Myth of Japanese Efficiency

The World Car Industry in a Globalizing Age

Dan Coffey

Combining case studies with accessible but rigorous production models and historical background, this provocative book challenges accepted views on Japanese production methods in the world car industry. The book argues that the ‘lean and flexible’ production model popularly associated with Toyota MC is a myth, but one which sheds light on cultural responses to the attendant stresses of globalization. To illustrate this, Dan Coffey provides individual studies of process flexibility, labour productivity and the re-organization of work in the global car industry.

Chapter 1: Introducing the Myth of Japanese Efficiency

Dan Coffey

Subjects: business and management, critical management studies, international business, economics and finance, industrial economics, international business, international economics


The basic method of producing automobiles changed very little between 1913, when Henry Ford introduced the moving assembly line, and the 1970s, when a radically new system of production began to emerge in Japan. (Dicken 2003: 364) Fordist practices came to be seen as limiting, because they were suited to the manufacture of large quantities of standardized goods . . . shifts were occurring in global consumerism: the mass markets which had made Fordism so successful were being supplanted by ‘niche markets’ for innovative, high quality goods. (Giddens 2001: 384) The new system was based on the development, application and diffusion of new principles of production and organizational capabilities that enabled Japanese manufacturing enterprises to compete on more comprehensive performance standards combining cost, quality, time and flexibility . . . failure to adapt to, or counter, the new production system would lead to industrial decline. (Best 2001: 37) 1.1 INTRODUCTION The past few decades have seen a concerted movement, visible in and running through academic studies, teaching literature, policy statements and business commentaries of otherwise diverse opinion and hue, to proclaim that radical changes in the world’s car manufacturing and assembly sector have led the way in transforming production potentials in factory systems more generally. The point might reasonably be ventured that a similar movement is discernible in an earlier generation of responses to the first appearance of car manufacture and assembly on a massive scale in the Highland Park factories of Henry Ford. The iconography of the continuously moving conveyor belt, and of workers tasked...

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