The combination of speed and flexibility is world class. More important, a similar dance is happening at 30 Toyota plants worldwide, with some able to make as many as eight different models on the same line. That is leading to a monster increase in productivity and market responsiveness -- all part of the company's obsession with what President Fujio Cho calls "the criticality of speed."
Remember when Japan was going to take over the world? Corporate America was apoplectic at the idea that every Japanese company might be as obsessive, productive, and well-managed as Toyota Motor Corp. (TM ). We know what happened next: One of the longest crashes in business history revealed most of Japan Inc. to be debt-addicted, inefficient, and clueless. Today, 13 years after the Nikkei peaked, Japan is still struggling to avoid permanent decline. World domination? Hardly.
Except in one corner. In autos, the Japanese rule. And in Japan, one company -- Toyota -- combines the size, financial clout, and manufacturing excellence needed to dominate the global car industry in a way no company ever has. Sure, Toyota, with $146 billion in sales, may not be tops in every category. GM is bigger -- for now. Nissan Motor Co. (NSANY ) makes slightly more profit per vehicle in North America, and its U.S.... [continues]
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