Message from Japan's Four Automobile Manufacturers Associations in Response to the Spread of COVID-19
Remarks given by JAMA (Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association) Chairman Akio Toyoda
Toyota City, Japan, Apr 10, 2020- Today, the three associations related to automobile manufacturing who have just been mentioned are joining us in addition to our own JAMA members.
Gratitude to healthcare workers and others fighting for us
At the recent JAMA press conference, I mentioned that in this world there are things that we can control and things that we cannot control.
If we focus too much on the things that cannot be controlled, our feelings will become negative.
We must focus our action on the areas that we can take control.
We must be mindful and thank people who are able to do something in the areas of our lives that we cannot control.
First, I would like to thank all those working in the areas of healthcare and in logistics and transportation who have been working diligently to support our lives, and their families who support them from the bottom of my heart.
This expression of gratitude is not limited only to those working in Japan. Our business extends to people in various countries and regions, and we know that there are people in each country and region working just as diligently on the frontlines every single day.
While I am not sure how far this message given from Japan will reach, on behalf of the automobile industry in Japan, I send our deepest gratitude to all who are involved in this industry around the world, and wish to ask for your continued support. I think we are all encouraged in the industry to keep doing our very best, and we will!
How we can help support the healthcare system
Now, please allow me to return and speak more about Japan. Japan is now facing a deepening crisis.
If the number of infected people continues to increase, it may cause the healthcare systems here to collapse, and Japan may not be able to recover.
First, we hope to provide support in areas that we can control, and begin from there.
Typically, events like press conferences were places to announce things that have already been decided.
However, today we plan to talk about topics we should be thinking about moving forward, and includes our "thoughts" and "declarations."
While nothing has been officially decided, by discussing our thoughts, there may be people who will raise their hands and are willing to do the things we suggest together with us.
Then, we can work more speedily and perhaps start a bigger movement.
Because we are in a time of crisis, this carries added importance.
If you can listen to and understand this point, it would be appreciated.
Self-sufficient production of face masks for internal use
Returning to the topic of how we can help support the healthcare system to keep it from collapsing in any small way we can, the first action item we have come up with is to produce face masks for our own employees within the automobile industry.
However, we have not secured the quality or quantity of face masks for distribution to everyone yet.
The first prototype face mask we made using auto parts was too stiff.
Of course, we are continuing to make improvements, but for the first products, we plan to use them amongst ourselves.
Though small in overall impact, we believe even this action can help ease the pressure on the supply chain for face masks as it reduces the amount some companies need to procure from outside manufacturers.
Self-sufficiency in remote facilities
Among our companies, we also have vacant dormitories and recreational facilities.
For example, just within the Toyota Group companies, we believe we can prepare around 1,500 rooms if needed. We anticipate that as JAMA we may be able to prepare around 3,000 rooms in total.
Currently, these facilities are used mainly for employees returning from their posts overseas, but, depending on the situation, we would consider using these facilities for mildly infected patients.
Support improvement activities for ventilator equipment production
We are also aware that there are some expectations regarding the production of ventilators.
However, this is medical equipment that is directly connected with human life.
Automobiles are also products that are related to human life, and so, as manufacturers or those engaged in monozukuri relating to life or death, we understand how difficult it is to make such things. This is no simple task.
To support these manufacturers, we will first go where the medical equipment is being made, and we will do what we can to support increased production, even if the result is only one more mask being made, as we determine improvements in the production process and start providing support by utilizing our know-how.
Other activities to support healthcare worksites
While not directly related to human life, there are other things we may do that can help support the frontlines of the healthcare system.
We see needs such as "providing vehicles necessary for transporting patients," "vehicle modifications to support patient transport," and the production of "bed parts for use in hospitals among other parts," that we can also make efforts in.
By offering our help in areas that relate to our expertise and that can utilize our existing assets, we hope we can play our part and do something useful for everyone.
Understand the situation at the frontlines (efforts by the airport rental car services desk)
Please let me mention one more thing our "friends," or partners, are working hard on. One example is at the airport rental car services desk.
Those people who are returning from overseas, after passing the medical inspection, are finding that they need to return home using personal vehicles as a way to prevent others from becoming infected.
There are many people visiting the airport car rental desk every day.
However, we have not been able to distribute personal protective gear to those working at the desk, and many of them are only wearing masks as they work.
Despite the fear of potential infection, they work hard for their customers every day.
We want to provide personal protective gear for each and every one of them, and so we continue to try our best to see how we might be able to do so.
Now, worksites everywhere are facing unprecedented situations. It is of utmost importance to grasp what is happening at the front lines as fast as we can, and, for now, under this situation, think of what we can do and act on now.
The economy is also in crisis
The economy is also in a crisis.
Until recently, there was a total global GDP of 9000 trillion yen; however, this has decreased by 15 to 20 percent within the last three months.
Economic measures to counter this situation are being implemented in each country and region. This is also true for Japan, where an emergency economic measure of 108 trillion yen was announced. Please let me take this opportunity to thank the government of Japan for deciding so quickly on what may be one of the biggest measures they have taken.
However, we are still facing an extremely tough situation.
The day will come when humans will conquer the threat of COVID-19. However, if the current situation continues, the economy in Japan may be exhausted. It may not even be possible to find a way to tackle COVID-19 fully before the economy is in ruin.
It is our hope as the automotive industry that we can be a part of efforts to prevent this collapse from happening.
Ripple effect of the automotive industry
In the automotive industry there are approximately 5.5 million workers. This makes up approximately ten percent of the working population in Japan.
The automotive industry has a profound amount of influence that could cause a ripple effect to other industries. When we try to put a figure to it, the estimated effect the industry has on production is said to be "2.5 times" the amount.
This means that when the automotive industry produces "1", this will lead to a production of "2.5 times the amount" across the world, making the automotive industry one of the top level industries in Japan (and the world).
We will make every effort to continue to stimulate the economy, and more than anything, we understand that protecting employment is a powerful force to help stop the collapse of the economy.
Therefore, we will do our best to keep our businesses in operation.
To do that, first we need to protect workers related to the automobile industry from becoming infected. So it is really critical that we take thorough measures to prevent this. Furthermore, this is also important to help prevent the healthcare systems from collapsing.
Things we discovered (and left as assets for people to follow and use) by not giving up on domestic production
We have been through a lot, such as the Lehman shock and the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake that occurred after that. During these difficult times, I was very insistent about retaining our domestic production.
With regard to this, a lot of criticism was received, some stating that from the perspective of economic rationality, it is wrong to stay focused on Japan (in terms of production).
After the earthquake and tsunami disaster, I believed that offering only temporary support would not be effective for a "true recovery" of the Tohoku region, so we built a new automobile body manufacturing company in the area and also a school that teaches monozukuri (making things).
This effort aimed at providing the type of long term recovery support needed to establish the roots of "making cars" there.
When we look at the Tohoku region now, nine years on from the disaster, the total value of vehicle shipment volume from the area, which was 50 billion yen at the time, has now reached 800 billion yen, which is 16 times that amount. Furthermore, the number of suppliers mostly consisting of auto parts manufacturers which was approximately 100 companies at the time has now increased to 170 companies. Although there is high inflow and outflow of people in the Tohoku region, we have been able to increase the number of workers in the automotive industry there by 3,000 people. This current status in the Tohoku region was realized because the four associations here today worked together as one to conduct recovery efforts in the Tohoku region.
More than anything, new technology and skills are being created in the Tohoku region. These skills will be passed on; the people who learn these skills will teach this to the next person.
And they themselves will create a place where they can work, maintain, and develop themselves. At the time following the disaster, I made a strong commitment to myself that I wanted to establish Japanese monozukuri there, and was very focused on domestic production, and I don"t think this was a mistake.
Things taken to heart in response to COVID-19
This time, facing the threat of COVID-19, we face a situation where we are unable to simply acquire the things we need as we wish. Examples of this include face masks and medical face shields.
In these circumstances, we have once again realized the importance of "being able to produce the things we need for ourselves."
Why were we able to produce these things for ourselves?
It is because monozukuri is still in Japan. This reaffirms what was felt strongly in our hearts about how we should never lose the worksites of real monozukuri.
New attempt to not lose monozukuri (making things)
Now, a situation where cars cannot be sold around the world continues, and because of that situation, there are some plants where operations have had to be stopped.
If this continues, we may face a situation where some of our "friends" or partners may not be able to continue operation.
However, amidst this situation, looking to the future, the underlying technology cannot be lost, and there are people with expertise that no machines can ever copy.
If these resources are leaked or cut off, the future we envision will grow more distant many years ahead.
Before it is too late, we need work in a timely manner to tie these vision to new capital. To do that, we need the power of "mekiki," an eye for identifying the crucial elements that the automotive industry should keep and maintain during the most challenging, unstable times.
This skill, I believe, is only possessed by the associations here today, who understand monozukuri. I hope we can consider a fund that combines both our mekiki and the capital you wish to invest in the future of automobiles together.
Matching people with skills
I believe if we have mekiki, we can match people with skills.
If there is someone with a high level of expertise or skills who is unfortunate and about to lose a place to work, that person will first be introduced to a company within the automotive industry requiring those skills.
In addition to protecting monozukuri within the automotive industry, we hope to reduce the amount of unhappiness and instead increase happiness. I hope we can create this kind of system.
Rediscovering the value of moving things and people (transportation)
The other day, looking at the flowers that bloomed outside the house, I thought again about how "Spring really is a long-awaited season."
The cold days pass. In spring it gets warmer, so people start going out.
Then, people feel "Finally! I can go outside again!", and they begin once again to taste the "joy of moving".
Currently, just like on cold winter days, people still cannot go outside.
In that context, it is likely that many people are now rediscovering the "joy of moving."
Being able to go outside and go where you want is truly wonderful. This situation has made all of us, including myself, feel and realize that again.
The word "move" means "to move physically," but it also can mean "moving your heart to change" and "being moved (emotionally)."
In my opinion, I am convinced that these two meanings can be said to be in the same word.
At the end of this so-called "winter," there will be a need to make our cars even better and even more wonderful, so that even more people can enjoy moving more than ever.
This winter is also continuing on the economic environment as well. It could be described as a pretty harsh winter. If you can survive, you will see spring.
If the automobile industry survives, it will have a connected impact for many people.
Before I was born, there are stories from the post-war era about how Toyota had lost people and factories. Regardless, the company somehow survived by choosing to produce whatever needed to be produced.
Among the products we made were things like frying pans and pots, and we cultivated the wasteland around the factories to be able to produce potatoes and barley.
I've heard that Subaru also made all types of lifestyle products, including things like agricultural equipment, carriages for babies, sewing machines and even clippers for barbers.
For dealers that didn't have cars to sell, they also did what they could, selling tableware, etc., and other things that are considered necessary for life, selling them from person to person.
As an industry, I believe we have the tenacious DNA that will help us to survive, so we should do all we can to survive!
When spring finally comes ... that is, when this COVID-19 situation has ended ... When people are saying "Come on! Move forward! Get outside!", that will be the time that we would like the automotive industry to be the best engine to revive the economy as soon as possible.
If you're huddled up not doing anything because it's winter, your legs will weaken.
At any rate, we should do whatever we need to do, and we'll do it now.
What we can do now are the following three things
1. Thank healthcare workers and their families and provide any support we can
2. Keep doing business, whatever we can, to keep the economy running
3. Make preparations to lead by becoming the number one driver of the economy for when spring finally comes.