More Than Fuel Efficient

More Than Fuel Efficient


Adapting as Reality Changes Its Spots

The “New Normal” is a phrase with which we’ve become all too familiar, with everyone guessing what post-Covid consumer behavior will look like and tailoring their responses accordingly. In 1973 oil prices spiked and gas shortages had drivers stopped in their tracks, leaving the global auto industry guessing about what the future would hold.

Detroit’s “Big Three” had built themselves into a nation-sized economy of their own by making big, comfortable family sedans and high-horsepower sports coupes, and they bet that when the dust settled, American drivers would forget about fuel economy and return to normal. Automakers in Japan had a different approach.

As the nation most reliant on OPEC oil, Japan was acutely affected by the crisis and making more efficient cars became a national priority. There was only one problem: their cars were already incredibly efficient. Obvious solutions, like reducing weight, weren’t feasible for Japan’s small vehicles. The gas crisis was forcing Japanese automakers to address an issue they thought they’d already solved. They would have to be open to rapid adaptation in order to thrive in the new reality.

There are many reasons why Japanese automakers were able to rise so admirably to this challenge. Surrender in World War II required a total disarmament of a nation that held militarism paramount to its identity. But it was quick to adapt and went through a period of economic growth so robust that it’s known as the “Japanese Miracle.” The miracle was simply a nation quickly adapting to a new reality in order to overcome a crisis, applying nimble pragmatism in its approach.

Source: Toyota Motor Co.

Lighter weight front-wheel drive systems became standard. Fuel-injection systems, controlled by precision electronics, replaced muscle-y but wasteful carburetors, and car bodies implemented high-tech materials and aerodynamic improvements.

Each increase in efficiency made Japanese cars a little more attractive to segments of the giant US car market, and as they gained market share more and more people became aware of their other advantages. A willingness to adapt had allowed Japanese automakers to improve more than just the fuel efficiency in their cars. They were more reliable, safer and easy to service.

The US Big Three didn’t like to adapt, even when they found themselves steadily losing the confidence and loyalty they had built with their customers for generations. They introduced a few lackluster smaller cars but spent more energy fighting government mandates on fuel efficiency and emissions. When another gas shock hit in 1979, Japanese cars became officially mainstream.

Through the 1950s three US companies made 70% of cars worldwide, and Germany was their only real competitor. In 1980 Japan became the world’s largest automaking nation and has still never slipped from the top 3. They didn’t do it through brute force or flash but by changing when the market dictated. Adapting can be painful but is a necessary tool to thrive. When the whole world is changing, it becomes a necessary tool to survive.

Learn more about Coming Back Better Than Before

Now It’s Your Turn

Corporate Culture
When Everyone’s in the Desert – Give Shade

In this period of supply shortages and employee turnover, there is a surplus of one thing: uncertainty. Everyone seems willing to offer their solution to the “Great Resignation,” but it’s such an unprecedented phenomenon that historical employee retention theories and data are hard to apply. Something will work eventually – but until then we are […]

Learn More
Corporate Culture, Employee Engagement, Employer Branding
It’s Not Just About Money – But It’s Not NOT About Money

While we all try to dig to the root of the Great Resignation and look into the best ways to staunch the bleeding, it’s worth considering the issue of overall compensation. In the words of one Los Angeles construction company boss – when it comes to employee retention, raising wages is “the easiest way… also […]

Learn More
Matthew McConaughey and the Ministry of Culture

It’s pretty common for celebrities to take ownership stakes in sports teams, but few have the opportunity to get involved in the regular operations of their investment. Brooklyn Nets fans will remember that prior to the team moving from New Jersey to Brooklyn, Bruce Ratner, a former minority owner of the team, convinced rapper Jay-Z […]

Learn More
Thinking Beyond the Department of “No”

All ethics, compliance and risk management professionals deal with delivering news that recipients don’t want to hear. In cases of clear violations, there’s often no way to soften the blow or equivocate what went awry. But not always. Too many writers with enforcement authority think they need to stick to the facts and only the […]

Learn More

Ready to talk about how your brand and culture can do more for your business?

Let's talk
Let's talk