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丰田新总裁继承祖业 回归本源应对危机

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A Scion Drives Toyota Back To Basics
2009年2月26日
Toyota Motor Corp.'s incoming president, Akio Toyoda, has a sobering message for the giant company founded by his grandfather: It has gotten too fancy for its own good.

On Monday, three top executives who helped lead Toyota the past four years -- including Mitsuo Kinoshita, one of the primary architects of the company's global expansion -- announced their retirement. The departures clear the way for Mr. Toyoda's planned makeover of the world's biggest auto maker.

He is expected to focus, most of all, on abandoning kakushin, or 'revolutionary change,' current president Katsuaki Watanabe's term for changing the way Toyota designed its cars and factories. It spawned technological advances, but led to cars that were often costlier to produce.

The 52-year-old Mr. Toyoda is also working to fix a pricing strategy that put the company at odds with some U.S. dealers, who felt its cars were getting too expensive, according to people familiar with the situation.

Auto makers world-wide are in pain, and Toyota is much stronger than rivals such as General Motors Corp., which is flirting with a bankruptcy filing. Still, Toyota is expecting its first annual net loss in 59 years.

Mr. Toyoda may shutter factories in North America and Japan, where Toyota bulked up in recent years and is now stuck with too much manufacturing capacity. It might also be faced with its first layoffs in Japan since 1950, when 3,000 workers were let go.

Mr. Toyoda blames more than the recession, according to people familiar with the matter. He is sending the message that his predecessors worsened the problem by straying from core ideas of thrift and efficiency.

Among other things, there's a move away from technologically sophisticated in-car gizmos like a solar-powered cooling system designed for the new Prius. In addition, an expensive new assembly-line technique of dipping car bodies into a vat of paint and swirling them around -- nicknamed shabu shabu, after a popular Japanese hotpot dish -- is under the microscope.

Toyota said in a statement that it feels its management decisions made in the past were appropriate for their time. In a statement signed by Messrs. Watanabe, Kinoshita and Toyoda, the company declined to respond to specific questions. It said the company felt some questions didn't reflect the actual situation, but declined to be specific.

Mr. Toyoda is the first member of Toyota's founding family to take the helm in 14 years.

'I think Toyota probably over-expanded a little bit in order to compete with the American auto makers,' said his father, Shoichiro Toyoda, 83, who himself was the auto maker's president during the 1980s. 'There are a lot of things that we have to review.'

The younger Mr. Toyoda's appointment as president is pending shareholder approval in June. Mr. Watanabe, whose appointment as vice chairman was announced along with Mr. Toyoda's promotion, had been president since June 2005.

The shakeup reflects the sense of crisis within Toyota as it navigates one of the toughest periods in its 70-year history. For the past decade, it expanded at breakneck pace. Under Mr. Watanabe, 67, Toyota posted record net profit 1.72 trillion yen in the ended March 2008. Last year it unseated rival GM as the world's biggest auto maker in terms of unit sales.

Now, it is forecasting a 350 billion yen net loss for the current fiscal year, ending March 31. And not only are sales plummeting, but earnings are getting further hurt by the strong yen, which means money earned abroad isn't worth as much when converted into Japan's currency.

In a recent sign of the distress, at a meeting late last year Mr. Watanabe appealed to mid-level managers to 'share the pain' -- code for a salary cut -- then made them wince by asking them to also consider buying a new car to help shore up sales, according to people who attended the meeting.

An unprecedented number of unsold cars in Japan has forced Toyota to stockpile them in the parking lots of Fuji Speedway, a company-owned track near Mount Fuji.

Koichi Shimokawa, a professor of business administration at Tokai Gakuin University in Nagoya, says Toyota was so focused on becoming the world's largest auto maker that it failed to cut production quickly enough last year as economic crisis struck the U.S., its largest market.

'Toyota was overconfident in its competitiveness and they just kept pressing the accelerator,' he says.

Until late last year, it appeared to be a horse race for the presidency between Mr. Toyoda and Mr. Kinoshita, 63, the right-hand man to Mr. Watanabe, the current president.

As recently as late last year, when Toyota's powerful elders huddled to discuss who should succeed Mr. Watanabe at the end of his two-year term, some worried Akio Toyoda was too young. Others felt that a large, publicly traded company like Toyota shouldn't pick a family member for the top job, even though Mr. Toyoda is a veteran who oversaw rapid growth in China, among other things.

A turning point came in a meeting in November at the company's global headquarters in Toyota City. Akio's father, Shoichiro Toyoda, made a subtle remark to the assembled group, according to people familiar with the matter. 'Why are all the key decisions these days made by Watanabe-kun and Kinoshita-kun?' the elder Mr. Toyoda said, using a standard honorific for the two men.

According to those people, Shoichiro Toyoda seemed annoyed that Messrs. Watanabe and Kinoshita had broken with Toyota protocol last year by singlehandedly deciding what vehicles would be built at a factory under construction in Mississippi. They had switched to the Prius, a gasoline-electric hybrid, from the Highlander, a sport-utility vehicle, without first consulting other key executives.

The language was subdued. But the comment, along with additional criticisms from other executives in other meetings, ultimately tipped the scale in Akio Toyoda's favor, the people say.

Shoichiro Toyoda says he doesn't recall the meeting. Toyota said in its statement that it decided a new management team was needed to tackle the tough situation it faces.

It's not clear if a back-to-basics approach will be enough to revive growth at the sprawling firm, particularly amid the weakening global economy.

Other auto makers have promoted founding-family members, with limited success. Ford Motor Co.'s own founding-family scion, Bill Ford, took over from Jacques Nasser in 2001. But Ford failed to launch popular models, while sales of its profitable SUVs wilted as gasoline prices rose. In 2006, Mr. Ford handed over the CEO position to a nonfamily executive, Alan Mulally, a former Boeing executive, who is still struggling to right the ship.

Asked whether the family name influenced the choice of top executive, Shoichiro Toyoda said: 'We never know who is going to be president. The current president made the best decision about who is appropriate for the next president, and it just happened to be my son.' The family controls roughly 2% of Toyota stock.

Akio Toyoda himself, as one of five executive vice-presidents, isn't entirely free of blame for the company's recent woes. Since June 2007, he has overseen the Japanese market, where sales and market share continue to fall.

Toyota now aims to generate 'reasonable profits' even if is global sales (excluding sales of its two main affiliates, car maker Daihatsu and truck company Hino) slump to seven million, down from an all-time high of 8.4 million it sold in 2007. Toyota currently has capacity to produce about 9.7 million vehicles, according to an estimate by consulting firm CSM Worldwide.

Akio Toyoda has long preached a traditional Toyota practice called genchi genbutsu, a leadership maxim that boils down to get out of your office and visit the source of the problem. For the past year, Mr. Toyoda has been practicing genchi genbutsu to quietly collect evidence that the company had strayed, according to people familiar with the situation.

They say he was particularly concerned that Messrs. Watanabe and Kinoshita placed strong emphasis on achieving two trillion yen in annual operating profit, a level it passed in the year ended March 2007.

Driven by that profit objective, Toyota executives reasoned American consumers would be willing to pay a premium for a Toyota -- a change from a long-held strategy of pricing cars at a value. Two years ago, Toyota started raising prices on an array of models including the redesigned Corolla, one of its most prominent vehicles, launched in early 2008.

Toyota's U.S. sales arm had tried to price the Corolla about $1,000 to $1,500 above what its U.S. dealers thought people would pay for a basic family car, according to U.S. dealers. Not surprisingly, sales were weak. Toyota sold 21,000 Corollas in February 2008 down 25% from a year earlier.

When Mr. Toyoda got wind of the slow Corolla sales, he flew to the U.S. to meet with dealers and investigate for himself.

Cliff Cummings, a veteran southern California dealer, warned Mr. Toyoda over a steak dinner with a dozen other dealers last March that premium pricing was the wrong way to go. Toyota had built an image of sturdy affordability, 'but now they were wrecking it,' Mr. Cummings says he told Mr. Toyoda.

Based on subsequent conversations with the younger Mr. Toyoda and other executives, Mr. Cummings says he expects the company to overhaul its pricing strategy.

The company is also reining in its engineers, who have been designing new features that occasionally appear to be out of character with the company's utilitarian roots.

For example, the new Prius, launching this year, has an option for a solar-powered ventilation system designed to keep the interior cool when parked. Gizmos like these helped lift the car's retail price to an estimated $28,000, according to analysts, compared with the $22,000 currently.

'Frankly, that does worry me,' says Earl Stewart, one of the top Prius dealers in the U.S., based in North Palm Beach, Fla., He anticipates stiff competition from Honda's new low-priced hybrid, Insight.

'I am already drastically discounting my Priuses to maintain my sales rate,' Mr. Stewart says.

Then there's the shabu shabu paint system. Toyota's manufacturing division is one of the company's proudest operations, having developed a highly efficient 'lean manufacturing' philosophy that has been emulated over the years by everyone from GM and Hewlett-Packard to hospitals and supermarkets seeking greater efficiency.

Mr. Watanabe, the current president, had backed the new technology as he encouraged his engineers to radically shorten the painting process. To replace the traditional system of slowly dragging a car through a 115-foot-long bath of anticorrosion undercoating, Toyota engineers came up with a new process in which a car body gets picked up by a robot arm, then swished around in a pool of paint, cutting the length of the line. Engineers compare it to shabu-shabu, which involves picking up slices of meat and swishing it around in a hotpot to cook it.

However, the new system costs roughly four times as much to set up as the traditional process, while producing what Mr. Toyoda felt were minimal improvements in the quality of the paint job and its efficiency, according to people familiar with the situation

Also likely to be axed: A new 'ecological plastic' that emits less carbon dioxide over the course of its life than more traditional alternatives, but which is costlier to produce.

Another tough area Mr. Toyoda must tackle promptly is the excess manufacturing capacity in Japan. In the late 1990s, when a strong yen made Japan a costly place to make cars, Toyota slashed capacity at home and added production overseas.

But the yen reversed its direction, weakening to as low as 120 to the dollar between 2005 to 2007. Toyota decided to take advantage and do more of its manufacturing at home, since a weak yen has the effect of making exports more profitable. By 2007, it was producing 4.23 million vehicles in Japan -- a million more than it made just eight years before.

That move was directly at odds with Toyota's long-held philosophy not to make long-term decisions on where to put factories, based on short-term currency-exchange rates, which can swing rapidly.

'We are not gods, we are not infallible,' says Shoichiro Toyoda, speaking of the company's management team. 'Sometimes even Tiger Woods misses a shot.'

Matthew Karnitschnig / Liam Pleven / Serena Ng
丰田新总裁继承祖业 回归本源应对危机
自己祖父创建的丰田汽车公司(Toyota Motor),丰田章男(Akio Toyoda)这位公司即将上任的总裁有着冷静的认识:丰田汽车太过自负了。

本周一,全球最大汽车厂商丰田汽车的三位高管宣布退休。他们曾在过去四年领导丰田汽车,其中包括该公司全球扩张的主要规划者之一木下光男(Mitsuo Kinoshita)。他们的离职为丰田章男按计划改造这家世界最大汽车公司铺平了道路。

Bloomberg News
丰田汽车即将上任的总裁丰田章男预计将对这家
汽车巨头的生产和设计方式进行改革以节省成本
丰田章男可能会率先集中精力摒弃现任总裁渡边捷昭(Katsuaki Watanabe)带来的“革命性变革”,即改变丰田汽车设计汽车和工厂的方式。这一变革带来了技术进步,但却常常推高了丰田汽车的生产成本。

据知情人士透露,现年52岁的丰田章男还在努力应对导致公司和一些美国经销商产生分歧的定价策略;经销商认为丰田汽车定价过于昂贵。

全球汽车厂商现在的日子都不好过,丰田汽车要比通用汽车(General Motors)等竞争对手财力雄厚得多。通用汽车目前正挣扎在破产边缘。不过,丰田汽车预计当前财年将出现59年来的首个年度净亏损。

丰田章男可能会关闭公司在北美和日本的工厂,丰田汽车近年来在这两个市场迅速增长,目前已经拥有太多的制造产能。丰田汽车可能还会自1950年以来首次在日本裁员,当年有3,000名工人被迫失业。

木下光男
据知情人士透露,丰田章男没有将责任都推给经济衰退。从他所传递出的信息可以看出,丰田章男认为他的前任偏离了节俭和效率的核心理念,从而加重了公司的问题。

其他方面,丰田章男可能会摒弃那些技术复杂的车内小革新,例如为新款普瑞斯(Prius)设计的太阳能冷却系统。此外,丰田汽车还将仔细评估一项成本高昂的新组装线技术,这项技术将车体浸入一个染料桶,然后进行旋转上色。

丰田汽车发表声明称,公司认为管理层过去做出的决定符合当时的时代需求。在这份由渡边捷昭、木下光男和丰田章男共同署名的声明中,丰田汽车拒绝回答具体质疑。声明称,公司认为某些质疑没有反映实际状况,但却拒绝指出是哪些质疑。

丰田章男是14年来首位执掌公司的丰田家族成员。

丰田章男的父亲、83岁的豊田章一郎(Shoichiro Toyoda)说,我认为丰田汽车为了与美国汽车厂商竞争可能有点过度扩张了。公司有很多方面需要进行评估。豊田章一郎曾在上世纪八十年代出任公司总裁。

丰田章男出任公司总裁的任命还有待今年6月份股东大会批准。在宣布丰田章男获得晋升的同时,原总裁渡边捷昭被任命为公司副董事长;渡边捷昭自2005年6月起担任公司总裁,。

Katsuaki Watanabe
这一管理层调整反映出了丰田汽车内部的危机感,这家公司正面临着70年历史上最为艰难的时期。过去十年,丰田汽车以危险的速度实现了迅猛扩张。在今年67岁的渡边捷昭领导下,丰田汽车在截至2008年3月的财年实现了创纪录的1.72万亿日圆净利润。去年丰田汽车又超过了通用汽车,成为全球销量最大的汽车厂商。

但如今,丰田汽车预计在截至3月31日的当前财年将出现3,500亿日圆的净亏损。不只是销量锐减,公司的收益也受到日圆走强的进一步打击,日圆升值意味着丰田汽车的海外收益兑换成日圆时会缩水。

近期反映丰田汽车困境的一个迹象是,据知情人士透露,渡边捷昭在去年年底的一次会议上要求中层管理人士“共度难关”(即降薪),随后又要求他们考虑购买公司一辆新车以帮助提振销量。

由于公司在日本的库存车辆达到前所未有的数量,丰田汽车不得不动用旗下富士赛车场(Fuji Speedway)的停车场来存放汽车。

名古屋东海学院大学(Tokai Gakuin University)企业管理教授Koichi Shimokawa说,丰田汽车如此专注于成为全球头号汽车厂商,以致于去年经济危机冲击美国市场的时候,丰田汽车未能及时削减产量。美国是丰田汽车最大的市场。

他表示,丰田汽车过于相信其竞争力,一直在狂踩油门。

直到去年年底,丰田章男和木下光男在总裁的竞争中还难分高下。现年63岁的木下光男是丰田现任总裁渡边捷昭的得力助手。

就在去年年底时,丰田企业元老们还在为谁该在渡边捷昭两年任期结束后接任总裁而吵做一团,有人担心丰田章男太年轻了。还有人认为向丰田这样一家大型上市公司不该让“本家人”来担任最高职位,即便丰田章男也算得上是公司的老员工了,曾见证了中国汽车市场的迅猛增长。

事情的转机出现在11月于公司总部丰田市召开的一次会议。据知情人士说,丰田章男的父亲丰田章一郎对与会者说了一句微妙的话:“为何这些日子来所有的关键决策都是由渡边君和木下君作出的?”他在话中使用了标准的敬称。

据知情人士透露,令丰田章一郎生气的是,渡边捷昭和木下光男2007年推翻了公司原来的安排,自行决定了密西西比州一家在建汽车厂要投产的车型。他们事先未与其他高管商议,便将原计划在该厂生产的“汉兰达”(Highlander)运动型多用途车(SUV)换成了普锐斯(PRIUS)混合动力汽车。

知情人士称,丰田章一郎的用语虽然克制,但他的这番话,以及公司别的高管在其他会议上的批评最终使丰田章男人气上升。

丰田章一郎表示他记不起来这次会议了。而丰田公司在声明中称,公司认为,需要一个新的管理团队来应对当前的艰难局面。

现在还说不准丰田汽车靠回归本源的办法是否足以重振这家庞大的企业,特别是在全球经济疲软的情况下。

其他曾将创始家族成员推为掌门人的汽车制造商只取得了有限成功。例如来自福特汽车公司(Ford Motor Co.)创始家族的比尔•福特,从他2001年自雅克•纳赛尔(Jacques Nasser)手中接过大权后,福特就一直拿不出热卖车型,有利可图的SUV汽车也因为汽油价格高企而销量萎缩。2006年,比尔•福特将首席执行长一职交给非家族出身的穆拉利(Alan Mulally),此人直到现在还在收拾福特汽车的烂摊子。

当被问及丰田章男拥有的家族姓氏是否帮他赢得了公司总裁之职时,丰田章一郎称,“我们从来不会事先知道由谁担任总裁。现任总裁就下任总裁人选作出了最佳决定,只不过此人恰好是我的儿子。”丰田家族拥有丰田汽车大约2%的股权。

作为原来的五位执行副总裁之一,丰田章男对公司目前的问题也不是完全没有责任。他从2007年6月开始负责日本市场,丰田汽车在国内的销量和市场份额一直在下滑。

丰田汽车眼下的目标是创造“合理利润”,即便是在其全球销量(不包括大发和日野这两家主要的关联厂商)由2007年创纪录的840万辆锐减至700万辆之际。据咨询公司CSM Worldwide的估计,丰田目前拥有年产汽车约970万辆的能力。

豊田章一郎
长期以来,丰田章男一直信奉被称为“现地现物”的公司座右铭,即领导要走出办公室,对存在的问题进行实地考察。据知情人士称,在这条座右铭的指引下,过去一年来,丰田章男一直在默默搜集显示公司已迷失方向的证据。

知情人士称,令丰田章男特别担心的是,渡边捷昭和木下光男太过强调实现年经营利润2万亿日圆的目标。丰田汽车在截至2007年3月的财年中曾达到过这一水平。

在盈利目标的驱动下,丰田管理层设想美国消费者会愿意为丰田车付出高价,这对于丰田汽车长期以来奉行的按质定价战略是一个转变。两年前,丰田开始提高一系列车型的售价,当中包括其最杰出的车型这一──2008年初面市的新版卡罗拉(Corolla)。

据美国的经销商称,丰田的美国销售部门将卡罗拉的价格定在比其美国经销商认为人们能够接受的基本家庭用车价格高出约1,000至1,500美元的水平。因此,销售疲软也就不足为奇了。丰田在2008年2月共售出21,000辆卡罗拉,比上年同期下降了25%。

丰田章男听到卡罗拉销售缓慢的风声后,当即飞往美国,与经销商开会商讨对策,并亲自进行调查。

南加州资深经销商卡明斯(Cliff Cummings)在去年3月有十几位经销商参加的一个牛排晚餐上警告丰田章男说,高定价是一条错误的道路。卡明斯说他告诉丰田章男,丰田汽车价格公道的形象已经深入人心,而它现在却在自己破坏这一形像。

卡明斯在随后与丰田章男和其他丰田高管交谈后预计,丰田汽车将调整定价策略。

丰田也在对其工程师进行约束,这些人设计的新功能偶尔会脱离该公司一贯坚持的实用路线。

比如,今年推出的新款普锐斯就有一个太阳能排风系统选项,这个系统可以在停车熄火后保持车内凉爽。分析师说,这类发明让这款车的零售价可能达到28,000美元,大大高于目前的22,000美元。

美国最大的普锐斯经销商之一斯图尔特(Earl Stewart)说,“坦率地讲,这的确令我头痛。他预计普锐斯将面临来自本田汽车(Honda)新款低价混合动力车Insight的激烈竞争。

斯图尔特说,我已经对普锐斯加大打折力度,以维持销量。

再就是丰田“日式涮涮锅”风格的喷漆系统。丰田的生产部门是公司最引以为傲的业务,它制订的高效“精益生产”理念多年来已为众多希望提高效率的公司所效仿,其中既有通用汽车和惠普(Hewlett-Packard)这样的大公司,也包括医院和超市。

现任总裁渡边捷昭一直支持技术创新,他鼓励手下的工程师大胆缩短喷漆过程。丰田的工程师决定打破传统,不再慢慢拖动汽车通过一个115英尺长的防腐底漆喷涂系统,而是由机器人手臂将车身抬起,然后快速在一个油漆池中浸一下,这就缩短了喷漆线的长度。工程师将它比作涮锅,同夹起一片肉迅速在火锅中涮一下类似。

不过,知情人士称,新系统的成本大约是传统工艺的4倍,同时丰田章男认为其在喷漆质量和效率上的改进微不足道。

同样可能受到抛弃的还有:一种在使用过程中可比传统替代品排出更少二氧化碳的新型“生态塑料”,但它的生产成本过于昂贵。

丰田章男必须尽快解决的另一个难题是公司在日本的过剩产能。90年代末,日圆走强提高了日本的汽车生产成本,丰田开始削减国内产能,增加了在海外的产量。

但日圆走势此后出现了逆转,在2005年至2007年期间走软至最低120日圆兑1美元。丰田决定利用这点,增加在国内的生产,因为日圆疲软可以让出口更为有利可图。到2007年,丰田在国内的产量高达423万辆,比8年前增加了100万辆。

此举直接违背了丰田的长期理念,即不根据汇率的短期波动做出在哪里设厂的长期决策。

丰田章一郎在谈到公司的管理团队时说,我们是人而不是神,并非十全十美。有时甚至老虎伍兹(Tiger Woods)也会失手。

Matthew Karnitschnig / Liam Pleven / Serena Ng
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