LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Fujio Cho, the man credited with launching Toyota Motor Corp.'s first greenfield North American auto plant here, returned for a visit in May. The occasion? The 20th anniversary of its groundbreaking. Cho's role these days is vice chairman of the parent company in Japan.
"We have come a long way as far as Kentucky is concerned," Cho observed after a drive through Georgetown. He wanted to see the old neighborhood where he and his family lived during the plant startup. He also likes to pop into the local grocery store where he shopped.
As his career progressed at Toyota, Cho often has urged the company to give greater self-sufficiency and autonomy to its business regions. His thinking is that each region should resolve its own issues, determine its own market needs and engineer its own vehicles.
More can be done to localize r&d, he says.
"The area that we need to work on a little more is probably the area of research and technology development," Cho, 69, said through a translator, although he speaks fluent English.
"In that area even, we have been aggressively promoting and expanding. In Michigan we now have almost 1,000 engineers working for r&d. I do believe that the r&d function in North America is going to be very rapidly localized."
Localizing management, with North American executives replacing Japanese managers on assignment, will come in time, Cho says.
"In terms of the extent of localization, Kentucky has been the most advanced place of all in North America," he says of the plant he opened in 1988. At the moment, the Kentucky operation, led by American Gary Convis as president, is independently overseeing Toyota's expansion of Camry production into Fuji Heavy Industries' Subaru plant in Indiana.
"For new plants, we still have Japanese presidents, and some of the executives are Japanese," Cho says. "For those plants, localization has been pursued on a gradual basis."
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