For several decades, Japan has enjoyed a reputation for producing solid, reliable cars. While markets in the West were initially sceptical of manufacturers like Honda, Toyota and Nissan, the quality of these names eventually won out. Now, the country as a whole is synonymous with reliability and longevity. You can pick up a used Nissan and be fairly confident that it will offer excellent performance, even with thousands of miles on the clock.
What makes Japanese cars more dependable?
There are a few elements of Japanese culture that might help to explain its advantages in the world of motoring. To begin with, Japanese cars tended to be manufactured without quite the same amount of specialisation. Rather than having many different presses to create many different parts, Japanese manufacturers needed to make do with a smaller number. This ultimately resulted in fewer errors, since fewer things could go wrong.
It was the pioneering of the Toyota Production System that made the biggest difference. In the wake of the second world war, the country was in poor economic shape. It needed to emphasise frugality and the elimination of waste. This led to the adoption of ‘just in time’ systems for shipping and production.
At Toyota, this culture had a particular consequence. It helped to shorten production phases, and to allow time for feedback from the customer. Toyota would iterate more frequently, and therefore would more quickly settle upon a design that met the needs of the consumer.
We see this recently in the launch of the Prius, which helped to blaze the trail for the electric car revolution that’s now in motion. The car was launched, and then relaunched, and then launched again – and each generation offered a refined approach.
How do Japanese car manufacturers achieve superior dependability?
There are a few other aspects to the success of Japanese manufacturers. For one thing, they now rely heavily on automation and technology. In this respect, they were leading their competitors during the 80s and 90s. But the gap has since closed.
What might make a bigger difference are the cultural factors. For Japan, the quality of the cars helps to generate pride in the company, and the nation more broadly. So, the average employee is incentivised to pay attention to small details. It’s this approach that’s helped to make Japanese manufacturers popular with British street-racing enthusiasts. Japanese Domestic Market vehicles are now in high demand.
Japanese workers were also trained to spot errors throughout the production process, rather than in a specific quality-control stage. This meant that problem vehicles could be identified and eliminated before they could hit the market.