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Lean Production: the End of History?

29 November, 2005

One of the most influential books that have been published in recent years is the MIT study The Machine that Changed the World by Womack et al. (1990).

The book combines detailed empirical comparisons with bold and sweeping assertions. The Japanese management system or 'lean production', Womack argues, is not only the world's most efficient system for manufacturing cars. It is the one best way of organizing all kinds of industrial production, featuring both dramatic increases in productivity and qualitative improvements in working conditions. According to the MIT team it is predestined to become the 'standard global production system of the twenty-first century'.

The purpose of this paper is to challenge this perspective on both assumptions. Starting with a discussion of the industrial limits of lean production (which still very much is a system for volume production), I then turn to the success story of the 1980s - the dramatic expansion of Japanese auto transplants in North America. I emphasize the social preconditions for this process, which is completely overlooked in the MIT study, before proceeding to an analysis of their highly ambiguous working conditions. The transplants have attracted many American workers, but the relentless production regime has caused growing disillusionment among employees and increasing resistance from union locals. Finally, I discuss recent developments inside Japan, where automakers face a severe recruitment crisis, and the JIT principles are criticised both by unions and environmentalists. For many reasons lean production will not be the end of history!

The Contradictory Views of Japanese Management

In the auto industry, which I have been studying since the end of the 1970s, Japanese manufacturing systems have been debated for at least ten years. Remember that Japan became the world's No 1 car producer as early as 1980, and in the middle of the eighties also took the lead in innovative product development! In over a decade of debate, one aspect has never ceased to intrigue me, and that is the extremely contradictory assessments which have been put forward of the effects of Japanese production management.

The first time I encountered this polarised picture was in 1981 at a Swedish so-called Kanban-conference for industrial engineers and production managers. The conference started with a report from a 3-week study tour organized by a consultant firm which was full of enthusiasm for Japanese efficiency and dynamism. This glowing presentation was followed though, by a contribution from a manager of Atlas Copco, an internationalised Swedish maker of air compressors and rock-drilling equipment. He had for several years been responsible for a plant in Japan, and portrayed rather a grim picture of the conditions of the small supplier firms, the sh'tauke, and their workers.

The result was widespread confusion and discomfort among the gathered engineers. Here two contrasting views very presented. Which of them could they believe in? Personally I found the contradiction intellectually stimulating. Perhaps it was not so much a confusion of minds and information, but contradictions in real life?

A second example of starkly opposing views on Japan and the Toyota Production System (nowadays denominated 'lean production') was a 1988 seminar for Saab and Volvo managers, organised by myself and an internal Saab consultant. The Saab consultant had just returned from the start-up of Honda Allison in Canada. Formerly he had been quite restrained when discussing Japan. But at Honda he had seen the light: this was a 'total new work experience, egalitarian, creative, dynamic, uniquely productive'. At the same seminar the first results of Krafcik's international assembly plant study were presented, giving further credit to the assumption of Japanese superiority. But other Saab managers and technicians had also been visiting Honda plants in North America. They had seen very different things: a frantic work pace, relentless attendance demands, substandard production equipment creating a lot of work hazards, and heavy indoctrination in a quasi-totalitarian culture. Their report seemed to come not only from a different plant but a different planet!

Finally I would like to contrast two quotations, one from the MIT book, another from the president of UAW local at a Japanese transplant, whom we interviewed in November 1991:

Lean production combines the best features of both craft production and mass production ... lean production offers a creative tension in which workers have many ways to address challenges. This creative tension involved in solving complex problems is precisely what has separated manual factory work from professional `think' work in the age of mass production. (Daniel Jones et al. in The Machine that Changed the World, MIT, 1990.)
They promised us a rose garden. They gave us a desert. (Phil Keeling, UAW President at Mazda's Flat Rock plant.)

One Universal Production System?

The recent international revival of interest in manufacturing, which is very much opposed to the post-industrial euphoria of preceding decades, seems everywhere to be accompanied, in Europe, in the US as well as Australia by a search for international 'best practice'. That is a central theme in the report of the MIT Commission on Industrial Productivity Made in America, and even more so in the report commissioned by the British Department of Trade and Industry Manufacturing into the Late 1990s. In Australia the same perspective is evident in the otherwise very interesting report on The Global Challenge commissioned by the Australian Manufacturing Council (1990). This global convergence is to some extent a result of the internationalisation of manufacturing, resulting in a global tendency towards what organisational theorists label isomorphism. But it is also a product of the rise of a 'management industry' of business press, management consultants and management schools, all of whom thrive on the identification of alleged best practice and exemplary organisations. And 'best practice' for nearly all participants in this recent intellectual crusade is the same as Japanese practice.

The authors of The Machine that Changed the World present an impressive documentation of the Japanese superiority - in car production. Their comparisons of man-hours in assembly plants in various parts of the world is a truly outstanding piece of comparative research, and the results have been extensively reported and repeated everywhere. From this study of carmakers they formulate the 'best practice' perspective in its very extreme. According to Womack et al. we have reached a virtual end of history in industrial organization. Lean production is not only the most efficient way of designing and making cars. It will be the only way of producing in every manufacturing field. Moreover, in this process all the conflicts and contradictions which have plagued industrial history for so long will be solved. Henry Ford's mass production revolution, it is acknowledged, was a double-edged sword; it 'made mass consumption possible, while it made factory work barren'. Lean production, in contrast, means benefits for all:

Lean production will supplant both mass production and the remaining outposts of craft production in all areas of industrial endeavour to become the standard global production system of the twenty-first century. That world will be a very different, and a much better, place.

This fundamental perspective, that there is one and only one way of organizing manufacturing is a kind of global super projection of Frederick Taylor's famous dictum - the one best way of organising work. And, as with the approach of Taylor, its gross over-simplification is very American: one best way, the Fordist one, is now superseded by a new best one, Toyota's; one industrial hero Henry Ford followed by a second one, Taichi Ohno, in a neat succession.

The far-flung claims of the MIT authors can be contested on several points. I will start with a brief discussion of the overall industrial limits to lean production.

'Lean Production' - Still a Volume Production

The MIT writers' sweeping assertions are based on their belief that car manufacturing is the premier industrial sector. Thus methods that promote productivity there will of necessity do the same in other sectors. This view is certainly open to discussion. What, for example, do capital-intensive sectors, like the petrochemical or papermaking industries, or research-intensive sectors like pharmaceuticals, have to learn from the almost obsessive focus on labour-hours per unit produced? Toyota's manufacturing system is certainly more flexible than conventional Western ways of car production, but it is still very much volume production. The achievement of Toyota was to introduce small lot manufacturing into the context of volume production. As has been stressed by the Toyota consultant Shigeo Shingo: 'The question in this area is not whether or not to mass produce, but whether to produce large or small batches.'

The importance of volume is inadvertently confirmed in the Machine ... book, when it attributes the poor international competitiveness of the Mexican car industry to the small scale of 'only' 25,000 cars annually per model: 'far too low even for today's lean producers to make economically' For a large part of the world's industrial sectors an annual production of 25,000 units is an unrealistically high target.

The Japanese preference for high volumes and standardisation as a basis for a variety of features and options is also stressed by Michael Porter in his massive study The Competitive Advantage of Nations, which contains a much more compelling analysis of the Japanese dynamism than is found in the MIT texts. Japanese firms are very competitive in industries such as cars, consumer electronics, semiconductors and standardised machine tools. But they have not invented any universal production or management system and Porter finds them much less successful in industries demanding customisation and individualised customer relations: 'Japanese firms do not well, by and large, in industries or segments involving high degree of customisation to individual buyers, narrow applications, heavy after-sale support, and small lot sizes.'

A core argument in the MIT writings, both in The Machine ... and in the subsequent PhD thesis by J P McDuffie (1991) is the juxtaposition of lean and mass production, with the explicit assumption that before the advent of the Toyota system, mass production - plus small vestiges of craft manufacturing - was the all-dominant form of industrial production. This perspective may be approximately correct in car manufacturing, but is utterly misleading as a general frame of analysis, since most industrial activities cannot be placed in either of these categories. For example, an important reason for the strength of most competitive German or Italian industries (many of them medium-sized or grouped as networks of small businesses) is related to the fact that they never adopted the American mass production pattern.

The Success - Japanese Transplants in North America

A most important basis for the universalistic claims of the MIT study is its documentation of the efficiency of the Japanese transplants in North America. They have proven that 'lean production' is not confined to the Japanese socio-cultural context, which was an earlier widespread belief.

In the 1970s the Japanese were very successful in exporting cars to North America. In the 1980s they were equally successful in exporting their production system. They have erected new facilities at a furious tempo, exporting the fierce domestic competition between car producers in Japan to North America. Technically most of the new factories are virtual clones of Japanese sister plants, with Japanese production equipment, from industrial robotics to transfer presses. More importantly, the Japanese manufacturing culture is also transplanted, as is the supply strategy. (In personnel management however, there has been some important deviations from the Japanese model.) Honda and Nissan were the first bold pioneers; now every Japanese carmaker has at least one manufacturing facility in North America. The Japanese auto firms have been followed by hundreds of Japanese suppliers. 

Three Basic Preconditions for Transplant Productivity

The high levels of productivity are in most studies attributed to the management system. But the superior efficiency cannot be explained without mentioning three basic preconditions for these factories:

The first is the design of the products. All transplants assemble Japanese products, engineered for easy manufacture. This is a most important factor in the success, but is much more difficult to measure than man-hours per plant, and is thus easily missed. At least 50% of productivity advantage of the transplants and probably more of the quality advantage is accounted for by the design-for-manufacture factor.

The second basic precondition is the selection and management of the suppliers. The Japanese performance in the automotive industry is impossible to understand without considering the complex production pyramids of suppliers and subcontractors, which account for 70-75% of the end product value. In a study in 1984 of Toyota suppliers at different hierarchical levels in Aichi prefecture, I found an ambiguous web of dynamic cooperation and outright exploitation (of for example female self-employed home-workers). This was before the Plaza agreement in 1985 with the ensuing rapid appreciation of the yen. But exploitation still seems to be an important aspect of the system, at least at the lower layers of the pyramid. However, the new 'era of rapid product development', which Japanese auto makers entered into the second half of the 1980s, apparently triggered a rapid up-grading of many first- and second-tier suppliers, both in terms of manufacturing and R&D capacity, making them a very sophisticated part of the Japanese auto industry cluster. Small wonder that the transplants in North America have chosen to import the most critical and technologically advanced components from Japan. Pressured by the demand for increased local content they have also worked hard to select reliable American suppliers, which now are facing the most stringent demands they have ever met. Another method to increase 'local' content is to complement the car assembly transplants with component transplants. A number of Japanese suppliers have responded to these calls and erected their own facilities in North America.

A third important precondition for the high transplant productivity is the extraordinarily careful selection of the personnel. In Toyota, Kentucky, the screening process consisted of the following steps. First, an IQ test was administered to all applicants. The poorer half was dismissed. Then manual dexterity was tested, and again people with poor scores were dismissed. Tests of ambition, initiative and creativity followed. Role playing to test group orientation and adaptability was another part of the process to weed out unsuitable candidates, which was completed with medical examinations and drug testing. The result was an aggressively achievement-oriented workforce competing not only to be the best as a group, but also to advance their personal ambitions. The same pattern of screening was found in all the transplants.

A precondition for such a strict selection is that there exists an abundance of applicants, which has been the case for all the Japanese plants. When Nissan started in Tennessee there were 100 000 applicants for 3000 jobs. When visiting the plant in 1990 we found the working conditions rather distressing, and in Sweden it would have been difficult to get a stable workforce. In Tennessee however, that was not the problem. Quite the opposite. As our taxi-driver told us: 'People could kill to get a job here.' The reason? The best paying manufacturing jobs in the state, 14-15 dollars per hour, plus health and other benefits, which in United States means a middle class standard. Other unskilled work is paid 5-7 dollars an hour, with few or no benefits. As Bluestone and Harrison have demonstrated, the availability of good-paying jobs for non-professionals in the US has decreased dramatically since the 1970s. This has also been the subject of reports in the American business press, with ample evidence of the eroded standard of living high school leavers face today compared to the earnings their parents enjoyed.

Working Conditions: Smarter and Harder, Much Harder...

So much for the basic preconditions, which are so often left out of the story. But what about the working conditions inside the transplants? According to Womack et al., traditional mass production deepened the dualism of industrial work, increasing productivity but degrading the work content. So the issue is: 'Does lean production restore the satisfaction of work while raising living standards, or is it a sword even more double-edged than Ford's?' Their answer is an unequivocal no. Lean production makes everyone feel good. Unfortunately they do not substantiate these happy claims with any empirical evidence.

My answer is different. Lean production is indeed a double-edged sword, with very contradictory working conditions. This is demonstrated succinctly in the experience of the transplants:

On the positive side it is possible to list:

They offer much more job security than American owned plants usually do. An important test of this occurred in 1988 when Nissan had poor sales and large supplies of finished cars. In contrast to the customary response among US - and Swedish - companies, people were not laid off and Nissan retained all their employees until sales improved again.

Their profile is more egalitarian than traditional American plants with their conspicuous difference between white and blue-collar workers. 'We hated those ties', a Mazda engineer we met in Flat Rock told us, when describing her feelings towards management at the Ford plant where she formerly worked.

Here it must be pointed out, that egalitarianism is not an indigenous feature of Japanese companies in Japan. Here hierarchical status is very important, and individualised competitive evaluation of all employees by means of the satei system has been a vital aspect of the personnel policy since the late 1960s. In this respect the Japanese plants in North America are no transplants, but have made an important invention of their own. (In Kentucky, however, Toyota plans to gradually introduce a personal assessment system, thus making it a much more orthodox application.)

The quality of the products is a central issue. Thus many employees are justly proud of the achievements of their workplace, which they seldom were when working for American companies.

Those who pass the screening process feel proud of belonging to the selected. The book Working for the Japanese (Fuccini 1990) describes the high quality of the workforce as the most positive feature of the Mazda plant according to the employees. The heavy emphasis on team-based problem solving in the screening process is also a social advantage at work.

Japanese management takes production seriously and it has high priority in the company. Management values workers' proposals for improvements, albeit interested primarily in suggestions to improve efficiency. Continuous problem solving, finding the root cause and systematic testing of the best solutions, are important features of the production culture.

Lean production ... and mean

The manufacturing culture of the transplants is thus attractive to American autoworkers for several reasons. But there is another side of the sword: unlimited performance demands and working hours, recurrent health and safety complaints, and an utterly rigorous factory regime.

Unlimited performance demands. Transplants do not recognize any union regulations of performance demands or other limitations on management's discretion to organise work. With the help of kaizen all slack is eliminated. In the GM car factories, even those that have achieved high productivity and quality like Buick City, the work pace is relatively relaxed. People have time to talk to visitors and do some reading at their workstations. These things are unthinkable at Japanese transplants. According to their view, if workers are occasionally able to read a magazine at work, that does not only signify waste (muda), but also that workers will lack the motive force to continually make proposals for improvements.

Unlimited working hours. In a fundamental sense, lean production is not free of buffers. Long and flexible working hours are the hidden buffer that is utilized if necessary. The amount of overtime work, often ordered at very short notice, was high in all transplants. The far-reaching management discretion to determine working hours means that, in principle, production quotas will be reached irrespective of what happened during the day or on the shift. This is also an instrument to force the pace of improvements in production. If interruptions require that workers must stay past normal working hours, employees' interest in preventing the recurrence of such interruptions increases. The 8-hour day has been a goal for more than a century in the West, but it is very hard to fit into the logic of the transplants.

In Japan the absolute priority of production is solicited by the gender division of labour. Regular autoworkers are men, and their women take the sole responsibility for the family. Still the autoworkers' union, JAW, has become increasingly critical of the long working hours, which seem to be virtually impossible to cut in the system of lean production, in spite of all its productivity strides. According to the Ministry of Labour manufacturing workers in Japan worked on average 2190 hours in 1988. But according to statistics presented by Koshi Endo, the real working time, including 'voluntary' activities such as QC meetings and 'hidden' (non-reported) overtime, was 2430 hours (that is 50% more than in Germany!). In the US a much larger proportion of women are regular workers. At Mazda, for example, female workers made up more than 30% of the workforce. The relentless demand to fulfil production quotas creates even more stress than in Japan. When they work overtime, who take care of the family and the children?

Growing health and safety complaints. Japanese plants place considerable emphasis on safety and the avoidance of accidents, which can interrupt production. The products are designed for easy manufacture, with great precision in the making of parts. But the sheer repetitiveness of the jobs, which are designed according to very Taylorist principles, combined with the intense pace and long working hours, nevertheless lead to significant health risks, above all cumulative trauma disorders (CTD) or repetitive strain injuries (RSI). Incidentally these are not recognized as an occupational injury in Japan.

At Mazda, for instance, there were early reports of an unusually high incidence of carpal tunnel syndrome, damage to nerves and tendons in the hands and wrists. The total number of work-related injuries was three times higher at Mazda in than in comparable American plants.

There seems to be very little tolerance of such injuries. When we visited Honda's auto plant in Anna, management did not even admit that this was a problem in any way related to conditions of production, but maintained it was entirely dependent on individuals. 'There are weak and strong people. And there are right and wrong attitudes.'

A rigorous factory regime. By eliminating buffers, lean production increases management's dependence on employees and their contribution. In the Machine ... book the MIT authors emphasize that the elimination of all kind of buffers and reserves makes the system much more dependent on the dedication of the workforce. 'Trust and feelings of reciprocity' are represented as the basis of the system. But the elimination of traditional safety nets (buffers, etc.) is more than compensated for by the strict personnel selection and scrupulous factory regime, replete with compulsory uniforms, detailed conduct and discipline codes, absolute demands for attendance, minute regulation of the workplace and elimination of all personal attributes. In many respects the transplants involve a militarisation of the plant regime. In a society plagued by disorder and delinquency this could be attractive for quite a few employees - but it is far from the democratic quality associated with teamwork in Western Europe.

The pressure this regime imposes on workers has been clearly demonstrated by recent events at the Mazda plant in Flat Rock. As a part of the new contract negotiated in March 1991 (see below) Mazda was forced to relax their perfect attendance policy. Workers were provided with four Paid Absence Allowance (PAA) days, which they could use at their own discretion simply by notifying their supervisor a few hours in advance. Despite the alleged 'trust and feelings of reciprocity' this new right very quickly became a kind of safety valve for many workers. As a result, production came to a stop on Fridays in some departments. To guarantee production without having to add manpower the company wanted to restrict the use of PAA days, especially on Fridays, and in exchange offered substantial bonus increases. But the workers voted no - the right to decide for themselves on one single issue was obviously too important to be substituted by money. (The company then introduced the restrictions unilaterally, but that is another story, which speaks volumes about the alleged 'reciprocity' of the system.)

High quality products produced by a high quality workforce under a dedicated management offering job security and equal treatment, while at the same time demanding virtually unlimited performance, excessive working hours and the subjection to harsh conduct and discipline codes - the work experience of the transplants really seems to be a contradictory one. This is borne out in detail by a recent study of the Canadian CAMI plant, a joint venture between GM and Suzuki producing cars and light trucks. Here a group of researchers and unionists, The Canadian Auto Workers Research Group on CAMI, has launched a longitudinal research program, with field studies twice a year during a two-year period - a pioneering project. The first intervention took place in March 1990, the second in November the same year, when the plant had reached the stage of full production for one of its product lines. These two first field studies were reported to an international colloquium in Quebec in 1991.

On the one hand, the researchers found a consistently high level of participation in suggestion activities (71% of the respondents in the second study) and a majority of workers supporting QC activities. On the other hand there was a deeply ambiguous assessment of the team concept. The social qualities were appreciated, but in the second round 41% of the interviewees thought teams were a way to get people to pressure one another, up from only 19% in the first field study. Also in the second round of observation, the research team discerned a growing overall disillusionment with CAMI philosophy: 78% of the interviewed workers argued that CAMI was a factory where management still had all the power.

Unions - Increasing Disillusion

Most transplants have preferred to stay non-union, but four are actually unionised. What has been the reaction of the organised autoworkers in these plants to the working conditions portrayed above? At the start, all union locals adopted a very cooperative policy. They represented a highly selected workforce, which was proud to be there and anxious not to jeopardize their well-paying jobs. And the careful screening procedure certainly did not favour union militants, anyway. Moreover, at the national level, UAW viewed far-reaching cooperation with the Japanese as vital to get access to the new breed of plants, and argued very strongly against any revival of adversarial attitudes. The labour-management collaboration and teamwork at NUMMI was heralded by Solidarity House as the future, and an embodiment of central union aspirations. And yet, with increasing experience, resistance and criticism of the new production methods seem to be growing in all union locals:

Last year, when we were negotiating the first contract, people told us not to be intransigent. The main thing was the jobs and the employment security. They wanted to believe in the company, just as we did. Today the attitude is altogether different. People do not trust the company any more, even if they tell the truth.

(Don Shelby, President of UAW Local 2488, Diamond Star, Nov 1991)

Many of us came to CAMI naive as to how a plant functions, and had no reason to question the CAMI plant system. We all wanted CAMI to be the employment Utopia described by the employee handbooks... When I became Vice-President the previous winter I did so because I didn't want a bunch of Union hot-heads running the Local, doing nothing but running management down and bad mouthing everything we had worked so hard to establish as 'The CAMI Way'. In the interim, I experienced and heard about as much reality as I could take, until I realised what a smokescreen it all was. I became exactly what I had hoped to protect this Local and this Company from.'

(Rob Pelletier, President of Local 88, CAMI, in Off the Line, 5/1990.)

Union politics at Mazda

The development of industrial relations at Mazda, Flat Rock has been extensively documented in the work of Fuccini (1990). The plant started with a very cooperative, not to say acquiescent, union leadership, which was put in place by the UAW region. But as a result of rapidly growing worker resentment against the new management methods, these UAW-appointees were ousted in the first local elections and replaced by a much more militant leadership. At the time of our visit (November 1990) the new president had recently been re-elected and was furiously preparing the negotiations of the new contract. Some time later, 90% of the workers voted to give this leadership the right to call a strike if negotiations stalled. The new Mazda contract was finalised in March 1991 and is interesting as the first case where a union, with strong membership support, has been able to influence and modify the 'lean production principles'. As such it will be an important reference point in the 1992 contract negotiations at Diamond Star and CAMI, the two other unionised transplants not so far from Mazda. The most significant novelties of the Mazda contract are:

advance notice to the union regarding the introduction of new technology, including changes in plant layout and work processes;

more union influence in company decisions about the outsourcing of work and the use of outside contractors;

major improvements of the union's position regarding health and safety, such as the establishment of a written health and safety grievance procedure, the addition of an additional full-time health and safety representative and a full-time ergonomics representative, a joint ergonomics training program and union access to information such as symptoms surveys, etc.;

elimination of the Support Member Pool (temporary employees), and an agreement that temporary employees can only be used if there is mutual agreement between the union and the company about their use and number and that they will not be used to avoid hiring regular full-time employees.

This is Detroit - but how about NUMMI? Hasn't that plant been operating for 7 years in a strongly cooperative way? At face value this is true. But all the time there has been a strong opposition, criticising the intensive line speed and the constant pressure to work harder and faster, not just smarter. For several years this opposition, The People's Caucus, has enjoyed a majority in the assembly department. In August 1991, the critics finally won a majority in local elections.

Union locals can hardly change the fundamental logic of these production systems. But in view of the orthodox MIT perspective, that lean production must not be compromised, but accepted peace and parcel, lock, stock and barrel, the modifications they can effect might prove quite significant.

Japan: Automotive Work as 'San-Kei': Dirty, Dangerous and Diehard

Most important for the future of auto work, though, are developments in Japan. For several years the Japanese labour market has been very tight, and it has become increasingly difficult for automakers to recruit young workers. One important reason is that auto work has the reputation of being 3K (san kei), which in English could be translated to 3D: dirty, dangerous and die-hard. These negative attitudes are not confined to new entrants to the labour market. Recent surveys by the Japanese Autoworkers Union has reported widespread dissatisfaction among the employees of automakers. For sociologists this pattern is hardly surprising, since Japan in several international comparisons has reported a low level of job satisfaction. But they once again demonstrate the biased and one-sided character of MIT's Machine ... book. The book has been sharply criticised by JAW on account of the authors' total neglect of the long working hours Japanese employees are forced to work year after year. The just-in-time production system has also been criticized for its detrimental social effects, and has been blamed for traffic congestion, labour problems and pollution.

Japanese automakers have responded to this pressure in two principal ways - by stepping up their international expansion, and by sharply increasing their investments in automation, seeking a technological solution of the labour problem. The traditional Toyota model of low cost rationalisation based on continuous shop floor improvements (which is at the heart of the NUMMI success) tends to be superseded by a more divided work organisation, with a much stronger emphasis on professional specialists, for example permanent and specialist kaizen teams. But there are also signs of increasing social concerns among the auto manufacturers, which are expressed - and that is very significant - by the new president of Toyota, Shoichiro Toyoda, who recently succeeded the much more narrow-minded Eijo. What the final outcome of these considerations will be is unclear, but 'lean production' is certainly not the ultimate station of industrial development. Fortunately, history seems both able and keen to provide us with new surprises.

Source: Christian Berggren, Visiting Fellow, University of Wollongong

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