International Case : Global Car Industry

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How the Lexus Was Born-and Continued Its Success in the United States, but will Lexus Succeed in Japan?

One of the best examples of global competition is in the car industry. As the Japanese gained market share in America, U.S. car makers required the Japanese to self-impose quotas on cars exported to the United States. This encouraged Japanese firms not only to establish their plants in the United States but also to build bigger and more luxurious cars to compete against the higher-priced U.S. cars- and the expensive European cars such as the Mercedes and the BMW.

One such Japanese car is the Lexus, by Toyota. This car is aimed at customers who would like to buy a Mercedes or BMW but cannot afford either. With a sticker price of $35,000, the Lexus is substantially less expensive than comparable European imports. In 1983, Toyota set out to develop the best car in the world-measured against the Mercedes and the BMW. The aim was to produce a quiet, comfortable, and safe car that could travel at 150 miles per hour and still avoid the gas guzzler tax imposed on cars getting less than 22.5 miles per gallon. This seemed to be an idea of conflicting goals: cars being fast seemed irreconcilable with cars being at the same time fuel-efficient. To meet these conflicting goals, each subsystem of the car had to be carefully scrutinized, improved whenever possible, and integrated with the total design. The first version of the 32-valve V-8 engine did not meet the fuel economy requirement. The engineers applied a problem-solving technique called "thoroughgoing countermeasures at the source." This means an attempt to improve every component until the design objectives are achieved. Not only the engine but also the transmission and other parts underwent close scrutiny to make the car meet U.S. fuel requirements.

Toyota's approach to achieving quality is different from that of German car manufacturers. The latter use relatively labor-intensive production processes. In...
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