Toyota Motor Corp. may be growing fast in North America, but the automaker is worried that its U.S. team is not entirely up to the challenge.
Toyota President Fujio Cho said the company's management ranks are being stretched thin and the North American company in general is slipping into complacency.
"The sense of crisis we feel, despite increasing sales and profits, stems from our fear that we have not kept up," Cho said Wednesday at the Management Briefing Seminars.
"In sports terminology," he added, "you could say we have a short bench."
The admission is startling in light of the pace that Toyota has been expanding its North American presence over the past two years. In addition to nipping at DaimlerChrysler's heels in sales volume, Toyota is currently constructing two new light vehicle assembly plants, entering commercial truck production and guiding a batch of affiliated companies into new or expanded North American manufacturing.
It is not the same cautious pace that typified Toyota's growth in the 1980s and '90s, Cho admitted.
"Instead of having ample time to work with a small American management team, we are now rushing to add managers to handle new plants in Texas, Tennessee and Mexico," he said.
"Obviously, using only Japanese advisers cannot be done any more. We are stretched thin and elsewhere around the world."
He noted that at New United Motor Manufacturing Inc., its 50-50 joint venture with General Motors in California, more than 65 percent of the assembly plant's group leaders have less than five years of experience.
To improve management skills, Toyota has been sending managers through an executive development program at the Wharton School in Philadelphia. Line supervisors are going through a separate program that gives them a more intense study of the Toyota production system.