Slices of Japanese business, politics and life
But I’m not sure I was quite prepared for what I witnessed here on the second day of the media preview days.
Sitting here in the press centre where there are nearly 200 work spaces set up, you could almost hear a pin drop. Most of the seats are empty, and there’s only the low hum of hard drive motors escaping from the laptops of the few of us left here.
As a car industry reporter, I’ve been to dozens of motor shows on three continents over the past seven years. At the media centres, it’s usually a mad rush to grab a spot or a LAN cable connection; and there’s no guarantee someone wouldn’t pull the cord anyway, if you leave your PC unattended for more than half an hour.
With global car sales sinking severely and rapidly in the past few months, automakers from Nissan to Volvo and Peugeot are reducing full-time staff in an urgent effort to slash costs. Contract workers — the first to go when business turns bleak — are gone or on their way out at most car manufacturers around the globe.
But when Toyota Motor so much as blinks at the question of whether they would let permanent staff go, the reaction is exaggerated. And it’s not just because Toyota is the world’s biggest automaker and was, until last year, the most profitable and envied in the business. Toyota is, quite simply, obsessed with job security.
In my many conversations with Toyota officials and executives over the years, 1950 has come up time and again as a major turning point in the company’s history. That year, a plunge in car sales and the risk of bankruptcy forced Toyota to sack thousands of workers after management and union workers — on strike
against the proposed steps — failed to reach a compromise.