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The Toyota Boshoku way

Interview - December 18, 2017

The Toyota Boshoku group undertakes its business through more than 100 companies in regions worldwide as a car interior system supplier and a manufacturer specializing in filters. Chairman, Mr. Shuhei Toyoda speaks to the Worlfolio about Japanese Monozukuri and some of the innovatiove technologies developed by his company


What are the main competitive advantages of Japanese manufacturing compared to its competitors (China, Korea)? Could you explain to us what the essence of the “Monozukuri” philosophy means to you?

Japanese people are perfectionists and as such their work ethic is to always strive for perfection. Apple created the high-level product - iPhone - by gathering existing technology and using it to create something new. This concept is not something which comes naturally to us. We excel in producing high-quality products but do not look further into what else could be innovated with these technologies.

Our biggest customer is Toyota Motor Corporation and as such Toyota is our main information source. I identified the need to gather information from a wider source upon assuming my position at Toyota Boshoku. As such, I encouraged members to visit motor shows and exhibitions to widen their knowledge and gain inspiration. However, such information is not enough on its own. Therefore, we established a facility in California whose purpose is to provide more information in a wider field to educate our company on new products and technologies. On the other hand, it remains important to continue to develop the basic technology related to our core product; seat and interior components.

R&D and PE (Production Engineering) tend to work together closely in Japan; however, I identified that it was particularly important for these departments to collaborate closely in Toyota Boshoku. When improving technologies, our employees tend to look only as far as the company; and by doing so, it limits the scope of the company’s development.

To improve the company's perspective and growth potential outside of the company, we need to start looking at our technologies with the ambition to innovate further products with what we have already developed or the knowledge we have gathered. As such, I understand part of my role within Toyota Boshoku is to gather new information to distribute to relevant personnel within the company.


With regards to the USA, do you see the “America First” policies of President Donald J. Trump as a challenge or as an opportunity?

As an automotive component supplier, we are reliant on the direction which our customers choose to take, to ascertain whether this policy will be a challenge or an advantage for us. At the present time, the direction is uncertain. If automobile manufacturers take the direction to establish their production lines in the US and make additional plans and investments, then this would create an opportunity.

We plan to focus and pay attention to which direction automobile manufacturers choose to take; in order to come to a definite conclusion as to whether these polices cause a challenge or open opportunities for Toyota Boshoku.


The automotive industry is perhaps the sector that is currently experiencing the most interesting changes. Innovative technologies such as IoT and AI are transforming car manufacturing systems. As a key player in the development of top-quality interior parts for the automotive industry, could you explain to us how you imagine the car of the future? In terms of enhancement, of environmental friendliness, what key technologies is your company currently developing?

One of the many areas of change in the automobile industry is centered around eco-friendliness. The entire automotive industry is shifting to the production of cars which minimize emissions, such as plug-in hybrids, electrical vehicles or perhaps any other new innovations to be developed.

Toyota Boshoku has excellent established technologies which include “High-precision Stamping Technology” that enables production of motor core components for hybrid system and fuel cell separators. We are pleased to contribute towards a more environmentally friendly future, using the unique technologies we possess. Another area in which we contribute is in the development of weight saving interior components such as seats and door trims, which are required to counterbalance the increased weight caused by the battery load in hybrid cars.


Your company is a specialized interior product and component manufacturer. Throughout the years, you have pioneered innovative products that were adopted internationally. In 2016, you opened an R&D office in the Silicon Valley, another proof of your constant search for innovation. What major innovative developments will Toyota Boshoku bring to the market over the next 5 years? What enhancement will these products bring to the current car industry?

It is very important for us to develop lightweight technologies to make our product lighter. We are developing a new plastic material “High Impact Resistant Plastic” to be used on vehicle door components, which has a high resistance towards crashes, whilst being light, strong and flexible. When there is a collision it does not break and therefore protects the vehicle’s passengers. We are looking forward to exploring our applications for this new material.

We have already developed the new seat frame for Toyota and it is universal in that it can be used in any vehicle. We need to further develop the seat frames with different materials or a combination of different materials and we are currently in the development stages of doing so.


Your company is a true international player, with bases all around the world you have a physical presence in the USA, Asia and Europe. Your main production bases are strategically placed next to your main markets, as embodied by your philosophy to put “One Hub per Region.” What are the competitive advantages that this “One Hub per Region” strategy brings about?

It was my intention to establish a Regional Management & Collaboration Hub in The Americas, Asia & Oceania, China, and Europe & Africa. Individual hubs support the many affiliates in its region resulting in the function being more efficient or effective to manage. By gathering necessary functions in one regional management hub they are taking care of the operation of each factory and make sure that they are performing well. The purpose of the management hubs is to make sure the operation of each factory in the region is operating successfully.

We identified that referring to the hubs as headquarters, even regional headquarters, gave the impression that the headquarter was at the top with each factory underneath. We were unsatisfied with that concept and so wanted to make sure that the hub was seen as being in the middle with the factories placed around it. This would then give the impression of the hub being at the center and ensuring that the wheel can rotate properly.


Could you tell us more about the ¨Toyota Boshoku way¨?

Our root company Toyoda Boshoku was founded by Sakichi Toyoda with the passion and aim to make the world better. Sakichi Toyoda developed and produced a weaving machine as part of his contribution to society. His philosophy is reflected on top of the Toyota Boshoku Way which states "We contribute to society by developing leading-edge technologies and manufacturing high quality products."

Toyota Boshoku firmly believes in doing things in the way of 'genchi genbutsu'. This phrase used to be translated when I was working for Toyota in England as - 'go and see' – instead, I elaborated a more accurate translation that would be 'go, see and observe.' I always make sure to practice genchi genbutsu myself, one reason being it is important to grasp the fact to avoid being mistaken in your judgment. It is very important for everyone at Toyota Boshoku to understand and practice this philosophy.


Both domestically and abroad, your company faces tough market competition, with industrial giants and local manufacturers wanting to get their slice of the pie. What are the competitive advantages of Toyota Boshoku?

English is the primary language spoken and as such the companies that use English at work already have an advantage in the global market. We actively motivate our employees to improve their English-speaking skills in order to reduce this gap. We also invite employees from our group companies worldwide to work in Japan in an effort to become more global.

We have introduced KPI (Key Performance Indicator) into our factories as another measure to assist in our global expansion. However, KPI of our factories operation are not perfectly connected to our financial results. We are trying to improve our global management foundation so that we can see everything in one line. That is the global operation side. On the technical side, I realized the seats need to be tested and evaluated when placed in the vehicle - not just the seat by itself - so we established a test course to ensure the comfort of the seat is to a high level for our customers. This is another advantage we currently have, with to my knowledge, no other competitor having a similar test course.


As a key representative of such a famous company, what is the key objective your leadership is seeking to reach to ensure the future of the company? 

When I became Chairman, I felt it was very important to ensure that the President could work in full capacity. I identified that to do so, I both needed to support the President as well as embrace our different specialties and talents.

I wish to raise the capability of the company and that implies the involvement of all positions in all departments; Manufacturing, R&D and Production Engineering - so I am working hard to make sure all those sectors work correctly. Since taking my position as President I have ensured the daily manufacturing status is visualized and constantly monitored to anticipate and react to any kind of anomaly. When an anomaly is identified the root has to be investigated until the bad work method causing the anomaly is found and fixed. I also constantly review the monthly operations and make sure to ask questions when I identify something strange.