"We were not ready for telework," Toyoda, chairman of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, said last week at the group's regular news conference. "Work-style reform has been the buzzword. And now, we can afford no further delay in implementing it."
The outbreak of COVID-19 exposed big hurdles to working from home, Toyoda said.
"I'm wondering whether the HR system is able to deal with it," Toyoda said. "Are computers available for employees to take home? Is communication capacity big enough? Is prioritization and standardization of work completed so that business can continue as usual?"
While Japanese assembly plants continue to hum close to regular output, the country's automakers have implemented work-at-home policies in varying degrees. Honda Motor Co., for instance, advised teleworking for the 2,000 employees at its downtown Tokyo headquarters.
Being unchained from the office is a dramatic break in workaday tradition for Japan, where desk-bound workers routinely log long overtime hours and are averse to punching out before their bosses. Heavy meeting schedules are a time-honored ritual in this consensus-driven country.
Toyoda said the pandemic is taking a big bite out of worldwide sales and production. But he pledged that assembly plants in Japan will do all they can to stay open and keep churning out vehicles.
"Production shall be continued on the shop floor," Toyoda said. "Otherwise, we will cause troubles and inconvenience to our customers. So we shall never stop production activities."
Toyoda conceded some output adjustments will be necessary as a result of supply crimps and declining demand. Nissan Motor Co. has implemented sporadic suspensions at some Japan plants because of parts shortages, while Honda Motor Co. has slowed output of some models here. Mazda Motor Corp. also dialed down output of some nameplates that are running low on parts while ramping up output of others to help offset the decline.
Speaking through an interpreter, Toyoda said it is too early to make predictions about how bad the impact will be or how long the industry interruptions will last.
"The biggest factor behind the current economic situation is unrest people are feeling because of uncertainties," he said.
Toyoda's remarks came as Toyota and other global automakers suspend production across North America and Europe in an effort to slow the transmission of the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Toyota, Honda, Nissan, General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler are all pausing lines in the U.S.