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 5: Back to the Future: The Reorganization of Work at Toyota

Dan Coffey

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


Whilst Toyota Motor’s economic performance is widely regarded as superior, its employees are also believed to be operating under high pressure. As at virtually all assembly lines, the physical working conditions are tough. Assembly workers operate under a tight time schedule on which they have no influence, and perform repetitive tasks at a high pace. (Benders and Morita 2004:435) Toyota has developed an approach to boost morale in an assembly plant by (1) redesigning the assembly plant into many split-lines and (2) improving working conditions by introducing ergonomic measures to alleviate fatigue. Toyota promotes these improvements to forestall labour shortages in its plants. (Monden 1998:xvi) 5.1 INTRODUCTION It is hardly a secret that when reference is made to flexible manufacture or lean production in the Japanese car industry, the company at the forefront of the commentator’s mind is most likely to be Toyota MC, a point that we have had occasion to note more than once when disputing the considerable literature which lays claim to the view that Japan has been at the epicentre of a revolution in the basic organizing principles of manufacture in this industry. At the same time, the company itself remains nonetheless a significant international manufacturer with a global impact and presence, and its internal evolution as a producer is for this reason of considerable intrinsic interest, even if claims of a major comparative advantage in process ‘flexibility’ and resource (labour) ‘productivity’ have not been shown – as the preceding chapters contend – to be well-founded....

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