War Footing: Toyota CEO Unleashes ‘Seven Samurai’ in Bid for Survival

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Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

You need cash if you’re going to make it in this industry, and Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda wants more of it. The automaker’s top executive, who characterizes the dangers facing his company in the same manner of a military general defending the Japanese mainland, has launched an all-out assault on what he fears is Toyota’s biggest threat: unnecessary expense.

“With our rivals and the rules of competition also changing, a life-or-death battle has begun in a world of unknowns,” Toyoda said during a fiscal update last week. “Cost reduction is crucial. It is a fight to restore our original strength.”

To shore up his business’s finances in preparation for new investments, Toyoda has seven warriors ready to slash costs wherever savings can be found.

As reported by Automotive News, the effort comes even as the automaker reports record global revenue for the just-ended fiscal year. Is it paranoia, or just an abundance of caution? Toyoda claims the latter, as those boosted revenues came as a result of pleasing exchange rates and a one-time U.S. tax cut.

“Only the fat remained,” Toyoda said of earlier cost-cutting efforts. “In the fiscal years to follow, we must make sure Toyota becomes a muscular company so that we can take up the challenge of new competition.”

The goal here is finding $1.22 billion in efficiencies by March 31st, 2019.

Heading up the latest round of cost cutting is a group of like-minded executives Toyota calls the “Seven Samurai,” whose job is to peer into every corner of the company in search of savings. The plan goes as far as slashing non-essential meetings and setting a one-hour time limit for those that remain. Vehicle specifications won’t escape scrutiny, either.

If the automaker hopes to compete in the realm of electric vehicles and autonomous technology, Toyoda claims, it first needs to grow its profit margin — especially in North America.

In the last fiscal year, Toyota nearly halved its operating losses in that key region. However, its operating margin stood at just 1.3 percent at the end of March. Toyota’s chief financial officer (and one of its “Samurai”), Koji Kobayashi, wants 8 percent, and he wants it by 2020.

Volume fell in North America in the first quarter of 2018, with sales down 2.5 percent. While the automaker’s North American boss, Jim Lentz, claims Toyota will always have a more car-heavy mix than its rivals, it does want to bolster its light truck sales. There’s room for more crossovers in the brand’s portfolio, the company suggested recently, and its ancient full-size Tundra pickup (and the Sequoia SUV derived from it) is long overdue for a revamp.

In the product sphere, Toyota has a new Corolla hatch, Corolla sedan, Avalon, and RAV4 arriving in the next year and change.

[Image: Steph Willems/TTAC]