At Toyota, which faces its first operating loss in seven decades, some strange behavior is surfacing among the worker bees. For example:
A Toyota engineer has to make a business trip from company headquarters in Nagoya to Tokyo for a press conference. Normally he would luxuriate in the bullet train's reclining seats, maybe pulling out a laptop to work during the 1-hour, 40-minute trip. But because Toyota's in a profit pinch, he suggests carpooling instead — squeezing into a company loaner with two colleagues for a four-hour gridlock grind.
Toyota is screwing down costs like never before, and employees are taking some of the initiative. "We calculated three bullet train tickets versus one vehicle with three persons," says Takkakaw Kato, one of the people who drove to the capital to brief reporters on the revamped Lexus RX crossover.
Turning to a broader discussion of cost cutting, Kato said that even amounts as small as 3,000 yen — about $34 — now are "very big," and eagerly shaved.
And there are company precedents for saving far less.
A few years ago, for example, a Toyota employee realized the company could save a couple of bucks each time if workers visiting headquarters walked to the farthest exit of the Nagoya train station for a taxi, instead of the closest one. Guess what became policy?
There is more teleconferencing instead of face-to-face meetings, Kato says. Some of Toyota's Tokyo offices have shut down elevators to save money and are pinching pennies on publication subscriptions.