For the third straight Tokyo Motor Show, the American car manufacturers (previously known as the Detroit Big Three) are absent. Ford, General Motors and Chrysler have already shifted their marketing strategy in Asia to China, but the Japanese are unfazed. In an unprecedented display of unity and clout, all the top executives of Japan's auto industry gathered to deliver a message of hope on the eve of the 43rd edition of the biennial car show--once the biggest and brightest in the region before China became the biggest car market in the world in terms of unit sales.
Their message? The Japanese car industry is alive and well in spite of the natural disasters that have hit the country in recent years, and its members will cooperate to continue being at the forefront of automotive technology.
To illustrate their domestic industry's solidarity, Toyota Motor Corporation CEO and president Akio Toyoda (shown in photo below) had this to say: "As a result of a countless number of people undergoing many hardships, the Japanese automobile industry has grown to what it is today. In 60 years since the first Tokyo Motor Show, Japanese carmakers have responded to demands among consumers and in society with various innovative technologies, including Mazda’s rotary engine and Honda's CVCC engine. Among cars, there was the Fairlady Z and the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, as well as the Toyota 2000GT, which become a James Bond car. More recently, we have hybrid technologies and electric vehicles. All of these represent innovative technologies etched into the annals of automotive history. Japanese manufacturers have been providing the world with new technologies that are ahead of their times."
It isn't every day you will hear the big boss of a leading car company talking positively about rival brands.
Toyoda is also the current chairman of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, whose members include Daihatsu, Fuji Heavy Industries (Subaru), Hino, Honda, Isuzu, Kawasaki, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Suzuki, Toyota, UD Trucks and Yamaha.
For Nissan Motor Company, it was chief operating officer Toshiyuki Shiga who delivered a speech, as company chairman and CEO Carlos Ghosn is French-Lebanese. He said: "We Japanese carmakers are constantly creating innovation in the global market. Our efforts are not limited to green technologies such as EV and HEV, but also involve safety technologies. We are addressing two big challenges simultaneously: zero emissions, driven by electric vehicles or fuel-cell vehicles, and zero fatalities, driven by autonomous cars."
Honda Motor Company chairman Fumihiko Ike, meanwhile, asked these questions: "What if there's a robot that can perform tasks in places that cannot be accessed by people? What if there were a car that runs on renewable energy and emits only water? What if there were a car that never gets into an accident even if something happens to the driver? By deploying original technologies and innovation, Honda will realize such what-ifs. The future direction of automotive innovation is toward the further integration of intelligence...Technology must serve people. Technology must not harm people. In order to secure the sustainability of society, we must continue seeking for new technologies and innovation."
Mazda Motor Corporation CEO and president Masamichi Kogai, for his part, said: "Some say that young people here in Japan have lost interest in cars. This could be true overseas as well. Maybe it is because our public transportation system here is so good. I think another reason may be that we are not making cars that these young people want. As Japanese automakers, how can we make the world a better place? I want to do it with great cars. Cars that are fun to drive. Cars that people want to drive. Cars that will make their owners happy. In doing so, we will further advance Japanese manufacturing, and export it to the rest of the world."
Mitsubishi Motors Corporation president Osamu Masuki added: "Speaking on behalf of Japan’s automakers, I promise you all that we will continue to communicate and pass on our faith and conviction in the strength of monozukuri, as well as in always putting the customer first. We will continue to use the strength of monozukuri in training and educating local suppliers, in creating job opportunities, in nurturing local automobile industries, and in contributing to making the countries we operate in more prosperous. I ask you all to look forward to great things from the Japanese auto industry in the near future."
Monozukuri is the Japanese way of "making things."
Toyoda ended the forum with this story:
"The March 2011 Japan earthquake was a calamity for the entire nation. Approximately 70,000 pine trees once stood in the coastal area of Rikuzentakata City in Iwate Prefecture. The disaster destroyed almost all of those trees. But one of those trees miraculously survived. People began to entrust recovery from the disaster and their hopes for the future to that lone surviving pine tree, which came to be known as the pine tree of hope. Symbolic of this hope, 14 companies of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association combined their skills in the art of metalworking, which represents one of the fundamentals of carmaking, to reproduce this pine tree of hope."
This pine tree, Toyoda stressed, is "the pine tree of hope for Japan's automobile industry."
He further explained: Craftsmanship is a basic part of the Japanese automobile industry, and marrying craftsmanship with technology will give rise to innovations that will pioneer the future...And through making cars, we strongly want to make commitments throughout the world in the future."
So, the Chinese can, for now, revel in their bloated car market and glitzy motor shows. The Japanese will simply roll their sleeves and quietly work to keep their leadership status in automotive innovation. If you ask us, Japan is still the country to beat when it comes to car manufacturing--the United States of America included.