Thursday, Jun 27, 2019
Industry & Trade | Asia-Pacific | Japan

Japan’s ChukenKigyos

Katayama Kogyo: 70 years providing products to the world’s biggest car companies

10 months ago

Mr.Masayuki Katayama, President of Katayama Kogyo
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Mr.Masayuki Katayama

President of Katayama Kogyo

Behind all of Japan’s world-leading carmakers are the ChukenKigyos – small and medium sized firms that produce and supply them with high-quality components. One of these firms is Katayama Kogyo, which has been providing parts for the automobile industry since 1947. Company president, Masayuki Katayama, sat down to discuss Katayama Kogyo’s partnerships with carmakers such as General Motors, Chrysler and Ford; plans to diversify into new industries and markets;  and one of the company’s latest innovations, the Walking Bicycle.


Since the rise of Japan’s private sector in the post-war period, Japanese Monozukuri has been widely spoken about, but often misunderstood. In recent years, we have seen regional peers copying and replicating the manufacturing processes of Monozukuri at a lower cost.
What are the main competitive advantages of Japanese manufacturing compared to its competitors (China, Korea)? Could you explain to us what the essence of Monozukuri means to you?

The essence of Monozokuri is linked to our efforts to respond to our partners needs, we are very committed to assisting them and providing functionality for every carmaker. Our internal team works with them to continually improve in terms of efficiency. We work step-by-step to create the best solutions from our prototypes, working in the functionality, the dimension, the design, and the vision of the product. This manufacturing process allows us to deliver the best products for our partners. For us this is the essence of Monozokuri, the quality of our products.


You have been working for years to provide products for carmakers, big companies recognized all over the world but they could not provide such advanced products without the know-how of ChukenKigyos – small and medium-sized companies like yours that represent more than 90% of employment. What is the role of these hidden champions in the Japanese manufacturing chain? And how can Katayama Kogyo be considered a Hidden Champion?

Of course, final consumers do not know about Katayama Kogyo but we are recognized among the automobile carmakers in the industry as we work with important brands to provide them every automobile part they need.

Toyota, Honda, Nissan have Keiretsus but at Katayama Kogyo we are independent and we have developed a large experience in the field, we work closely with these big brands in Japan and also abroad. We provide products for some of the most recognized companies in the industry, such as General Motors, Chrysler and Ford. As you can see we have different partners in different locations all around the world so we need a different approach for each of them. We know the weaknesses and strengths of every carmaker and we adapt to provide added value for each of them.

In Japan we have a decreasing demography and as a consequence the number of cars produced is also decreasing, in that sense we are working to keep growing internationally and explore opportunities abroad. Internationalization is one of our main goals for the upcoming years. Nonetheless, we will keep manufacturing in Japan, in our Okayama plant, as a way to contribute to our local economy.


Regarding this differences between Japan and other markets, we have met with many presidents across Japan who have emphasized the difference between “Made in Japan” and “Made by Japan”. “Made in Japan” referring to the technologies and know-how that Japanese companies have accumulated while being able to maintain the same level of quality when manufacturing abroad. So as a Japanese manufacturer that has plants abroad, how do you ensure that your quality remains top-notch when producing outside Japan?

As I said in Katayama Kogyo we keep our production “Made in Japan” as a way to contribute to our local economy. Of course we have facilities abroad to give fast response to our partners needs all around the world.

For example, in the United States, we have facilities in Kentucky but it is just a manufacturing plant. Our design and R&D departments on the other hand are centralised in our headquarters in Okayama to keep the essence of the “Made in Japan” brand.

As a consequence, international partners like General Motors and Chrysler visited our headquarters in Japan.  These big companies sent a team of engineers from the U.S. to evaluate Katayama Kogyo’s capacities, to ensure that we could deliver not only in terms of quality but also in terms of design and development.

These companies visit the headquarters of different competitors in the industry to choose the best solutions for their cars. They visit automotive parts makers not only in Japan but also in competitor countries like South Korea. The difference they find is that even if we might not be as competitive in terms of price, we offer added value for them.


Katayama Kogyo was established in 1947, could you please highlight the key milestones of your company since inception? Can you tell us more about the corporate philosophy of Katayama Kogyo?

My grandfather started the company in 1947; last year in 2017 we celebrated our 70th anniversary.  We began manufacturing exterior parts such as door sash for automobiles and moldings and today we are building a solid position as one of the leading automotive parts manufacturers in Japan.

Looking to our 100th anniversary, our objective for the next 30 years will be to keep providing high-quality products with a special focus on diversification. We will put our effort as well to offering competitive prices but always maintaining the high quality of Katayama Kogyo products. During the past 70 years we have concentrated on the automotive industry, looking to the future, we would like to offer diversified solutions and not only in Japan but internationally.


In terms of diversification, what innovative products are you currently developing?

In terms of diversification, we are a looking to the future considering new opportunities in the market. Young people are not as interested as previous generations about buying cars; nowadays we find many other options for them like car sharing and renting services. As a consequence, looking to the future, we won’t focus just on the automotive business.

In 2009 we came up with the idea of a new business. We started then the development of a new product, the Walking Bicycle. We have dedicateda team of engineers and designers working exclusively on this prototype. They have been developing new parts specifically conceived for this new product and in 2014 we started offering the Waking Bicycle to the public!


Could you talk us about the new business of Katayama Kogyo, the innovative Walking Bicycle?

The idea came up when a good friend of mine asked me to develop a mobility solution for his father who was in his 80s and loved walking around Tokyo. He entrusted me to consider a new vehicle to provide mobility to the senior population while guaranteeing balance and stability. I asked our headquarters in Okayama to start working on that new project.

In February 2014, when we were preparing to launch our product we focused on our marketing strategy, how to sell the Walking Bicycle and we realize that even if it provides an alternative for elder people to move around the city it might not be that appropriate for the senior audience nowadays. Our senior population is not very active and they are not always open-minded to try new solutions. In that context we decided to rebrand the Walking Bicycle and approach the young audience!

By using our product, the Walking Bicycle we want to promote a healthy lifestyle, an active way of life. Nowadays, there is a tendency to make our lives easier leading to an increasing physical sedentary lifestyle. Automatic driving solutions and technology are an alternative for us to use less energy. The Walking Bicycle is an alternative to that perspective!


Can you talk us about the technology of the Walking bicycle?

Initially the Walking Bicycle was designed as a four-wheel vehicle, as it was conceived for a senior public we were considering four wheels to provide more stability. In order for people to drive it without facing many requirements as it happens when you drive a car (requiring a driving license, a number plate, car taxes and parking restrictions) we needed to go for a two or three-wheel prototype. In terms of stability, 3 wheels vehicles provide more stability so we decided to choose that option. Besides that, it is a vertical option vehicle, just an up and slow motion, that was probably the biggest challenge for us.

In terms of technology, the Walking Bicycle is a technologically advanced product focused on promoting basic function of the human body, walking!  We want to transmit that message; there is an alternative to traditional cars that allows you to remain active. Besides that healthy perspective it is also a great alternative and environmentally friendly solution for transport in cities.


Regarding your plans to diversify your portfolio, which segments do you believe that have the highest growth potential?

Katayama Kogyo has been a leader manufacturer of automotive parts in the industry, we have a strong expertise and many partners have entrusted us to provide them with reliable solutions. In that sense, we will continue providing high quality products for our partners. Also, we keep innovating to respond to new demands. Nowadays, we have seen the rise of electric cars and as a consequence the carmakers require lighter parts. We are already working on that aspect, our door sashes for example are made from steel, a heavy component. In that sense, we are working to provide alternative solutions and we have been able to reduce the thickness of the products to be lighter.

At the same time, we would like to contribute to our society focusing to promote a healthy lifestyle. In that sense, the Walking Bicycle represents a huge opportunity for us. Through this alternative to traditional mobility vehicles we intend to bring safe and healthy solutions.





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