The purpose of this paper is to examine Japanese and American management styles, especially as they relate to the automobile industry. We will discuss and compare management theories, strategy, structure, staff, skills, systems, promotions, career incentives and the like. Most important, we will examine the roads traveled by each country in getting where they are today, look at how Japan has virtually won the "automobile war," and take a look at Japanese manufacturing operations in the United States, where American on-site managers and labor have been forced to adapt to Japanese manufacturing methods.
The power of both the work ethic and good management is particularly evident in Japan. The domestic auto industry likes to explain the success of the Japanese in the U.S. market solely as a factor of lower price. A Toyota or Nissan car theoretically contains $1,500 worth of free features when compared to the price of an American automobile. While essentially correct, the argument avoids one vital issue: market price is a component of function. If Japanese cars did not perform, they could not be given away. Early Japanese imports were weak, uninspired copies of outmoded English designs, and while cheap, they did not sell well. As soon as they were upgraded to fill the needs of the American market, the Japanese "car" miracle began (Meyer, 1989, pp. 52-53).
The Japanese had no serious automobile industry until the 1960's. The first car was built in Japan in 1902, but there was no significant auto manufacturing activity until the mid-1920s when Ford, Chevrolet and Chrysler built small assembly plants there. A modest domestic industry was created in the 1930s as the economy mobilized for war, but it concentrated on the production of trucks and commercial vehicles.
It is remarkable that the Japanese car business got started as soon as it did. There were few good roads outside the major cities and the 1923 earthquake had ...