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 6: Rivalrous Asymmetries and the Japanese Myth

Dan Coffey

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


FDI can create externalities, spin-offs or spillovers that confer benefits on the host economy over and above the strictly economic benefits of trade . . . It is frequently pointed out, for example, that the American and British economies have greatly benefited from the high levels of Japanese investment in their economies; this FDI has encouraged firms in both countries to adopt Japanese ‘lean production techniques’ and to increase product quality. (Gilpin 2000:175) 6.1 INTRODUCTION In this chapter we consider some global issues. Instead of explaining the fact of successful Japanese entry into Western car markets by reference to revolutionary breakthroughs in the organization of manufacturing activities, it is reasonable, in light of the propositions set out in earlier chapters, to ask if the processes of myth making about Japanese prowess in the car and other sectors might in part be explicable by reference to the stresses of ‘globalization’ – or better, to the stresses of asymmetric market encroachments by major new players in world industry. We consider too the shifting nuances in the relevant body of Western literature as the initial sense of crisis occasioned, in North America at least, by Japanese import penetration has receded, and as the comparative strength of Japan’s domestic economy has waned. No pretence is made of an exhaustive treatment, but in brief order, and with a view to raising and framing some of the relevant issues, we proceed as follows. First we consider the mounting tide of reaction through the 1970s against Japanese inroads into markets...

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