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 2: Wide Selection: A Myth Encountered

Dan Coffey

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


The assembly of motor vehicles has come a long way since Henry Ford’s pioneering days at Highland Park. The customer of the 1950s could choose among engines, body styles, colors for both exterior and interior, and even hubcaps. He could designate what he wanted in the way of accessories – radio, heater, air-conditioner, for instance – and the car combining his preferences would roll off the assembly line in company with others representing different assortment of choices. (Rae 1965: 200) Last year a Yale University physicist calculated that since Chevy offered 46 models, 32 engines, 20 transmissions, 21 colors (plus nine two-tone combinations), and more than 400 accessories and options, the number of different cars that a Chevrolet customer conceivably could order was greater than the number of atoms in the universe. This seemingly would put General Motors one notch higher than God in the chain of command. This year, even though the standard Chevrolet never accounts for less than two-thirds of Chevy’s sales, Chevy is offering still more . . . indicating that while they may not be increasing their lead over Ford, they are pulling away from God. (Higdon 1966: 97) With the unwinking sincerity with which the publicity machine speaks to its master, the consumer, a Ford advertisement in October 1969 explained revealingly, that with all the different versions and options ‘. . . YOU end up with a car that has the features you decided to have. For the price that YOU decided to pay. The choice is yours. Not ours. That’s the whole...

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