TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- I recently had to interrupt a Nissan executive in Nashville in mid-sentence to question a word that those guys have been throwing around for the past few years.
We’ve been hearing it uttered in public speeches and used in explanations on how things work at Nissan or why strategies are proceeding on the trajectory they are on.
“It all comes down to monozukuri,” you might well hear them say. Or an even more puzzling use: “That’s part of our spirit of monozukuri here.”
As if the average guy knows what it means.
The executive patiently and articulately explained that the word -– Japanese, though not even really commonly used in Japan -– basically means “making stuff.”
But it connotes far more than manufacturing. It means the entire 360-degree enterprise and the ramifications of making a thing. Like, how will we design the parts that go into this thing? Where will get the materials? And how many hours will it take to drive that part to the place where we make it, and whose lives will we impact in the course of making it.
Nissan doesn’t own the word. Toyota used to use it, back in the days when Toyota used to distribute handy glossaries of odd Japanese words from their version of automaking that Americans were unfamiliar with, like “kaizen,” and “andon.”
But in recent years, Toyota has pretty much given up on talking about monozukuri, no doubt frustrated that it just took too long to explain when a listener pressed the pause button.
All of which is why it came as something of a shock this week when the word appeared in large type on the wall behind Toyota executive Ray Tanguay in the middle of his presentation to a big industry audience here in Traverse City.
Tanguay is Toyota’s top North American manufacturing executive, and the jist of his presentation was that Toyota wants to do more than reclaim its spot as a benchmark of global automotive quality. He said Toyota wants to practice monozukuri in such a way that Toyota contributes something to society, that customers like the company, employees like working there and suppliers like selling parts to Toyota.
All very interesting. But there in the middle of it was that word again. Monozukuri.
It appears to be spreading.
I will venture that in just a few years, monozukuri somehow will have become part of the English language, and you’ll see it popping up in a thousand different places, like corporate mission statements and award banquets, with a thousand different explanations of what it really means to auto companies.