Toyota and Honda: From Japan to the Southern United States

Publication Type:

Conference Paper


Gerpisa colloquium, Paris (2018)


Japanese auto makers; United States


Whereas the past research on the Toyota System of Production is abundant, the Honda philosophy is more shrouded in mystery. This paper compares and contrasts Toyota and Honda employment relations and describes how they have adapted to the growing auto industry of southern United States (Georgia, Alabama, Texas etc.). Based on numerous factory visits and interviews, it is revealed that Honda has a somewhat less emphasis on teamwork and more emphasis on equality in the workplace.
Japanese transplants exist in the US due to political decisions to restrict imports from Japan and exert more force on domestic content of what is produced within country. The Japanese transplants have strongly pressured state governments for lower taxes, low cost and sometimes free land, and other forms of favored treatment. This is not unlike a whipsaw strategy that pits states against states in ratcheting up subsidies and other benefits. They have also largely decided to locate in non-union states, and they often imply that they may move to another state if unionization presents a real challenge (Besser, 1996). So this approach does have a strong anti-union position, even though these same companies have their enterprise unions in Japan.
Our findings reveal that workers in Japanese transplants appreciate the teamwork approach, the equalization of perks, and the job security (for permanent but not temporary workers) that this type of lean production offers to them. The 2012 book by Toyota worker Tim Turner and his fellow employees is a rather surprising account of the pride of Toyota workers around the country telling their own stories to the world. This is not an account of exploitation. Lepadatu and Janoski (2011) in their account of diversity in a lean production auto transplant found out that workers are generally quite satisfied with their jobs. To a certain degree this is quite surprising and Lepadatu and Janoski (2011) noted the lack of criticism of the company. To be sure, there is stress, but the long hours and intense teamwork create a hold on workers that is not present in many other work environments. In other words, the team becomes the center of many of their lives. The strongest down-side appears to come from workers who receive injuries, who are often pressured to get back to work, and the temporary workers who do not have the promised job security that other permanent workers prize so much. Also at one company presentation with a worker panel, a number of workers criticized the working hours. But given these stresses and conflicts, sociologists at this point need to recognize there are both positive and negative aspects of this new form of the division of labor.

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