Under the firm hand of Renault's Carlos Ghosn, Japan's auto industry is undergoing a drastic change that has been too long coming. True, Ghosn is swinging his broadsword at Nissan Motor Co., which Renault controls, but his doctrine should be heeded by all - even mighty Toyota.
If Ghosn is to be Nissan's savior, economist Joseph Schumpeter has become its patron saint. Years ago, Schumpeter coined the phrase 'waves of creative destruction' to explain how the decline of some industries could clear the way for future economic growth.
Schumpeter's precepts easily could apply to Nissan. Consider: In seven of the past eight years, Nissan has lost money. Its Japanese assembly plants operate at just over 50 percent of capacity, and its debt tops $13 billion.
Only a wave of creative destruction - that is, a round of plant closings, job cuts and structural changes - can save Nissan.
And yet, its own executives couldn't bring themselves to do it. They were frozen by Japan's corporate creed: Don't rock the boat.
Enter the gaijin, Ghosn. A few years ago, the Brazilian-born executive's energetic turnaround of tradition-bound Renault earned him the nickname 'Le Cost Cutter.'
Now Ghosn is trying to save Nissan. During the Tokyo auto show, he announced plans to shut plants, eliminate jobs and close dealerships. He even vowed to dismantle the keiretsu family of suppliers in favor of more competitive sourcing.
It is safe to say that no Japanese executive had the stomach to launch such a thorough housecleaning. It also is safe to say that Nissan is doomed without it.
Mazda is undergoing a similar transformation under the wing of Ford Motor Co. Sooner or later, the other Japanese automakers must implement the same kinds of changes, even if they don't use a gaijin cost-cutter.