How can you avoid the dangers of what you've called "Big Business disease"—of Toyota becoming too large and complacent?
Everyone should be dissatisfied with the present situation and should constantly try to improve or change things. It's important to realize that there is always something more we need to aim at. That's what needs to be recognized by every individual. When you're growing you're satisfied with the status quo, and that's no good.
What's your first priority as president?
Our present concern at our plants around the world is the quality and cost of production. We're concerned with what level each factory is at, so we can assess its capability. If there's any gap, we have to fill it.
You're renowned for cutting costs. Is there still a lot of fat to trim at Toyota?
There's plenty. Look, there are two p.r. people right here.
So you're going to fire one?
Yes, one is enough ... Regarding costs for design, engineering, quality control, production, work force and management, there are still gray areas with waste and room for improvement. The next step is value innovation, where we're trying to make improvements in design that raise quality and lower costs.
Toyota is more profitable than America's Big Three carmakers combined. Why has it been so much more successful?
In Toyota everybody works as a team. We even call our suppliers our partners, and we make things that everybody thinks we should make.
What's Toyota doing to make cars safer?
We're developing a night-system sensor that can see things a naked eye cannot. The system would automatically prevent a collision. Another system protects a car from spinning even after its emergency brakes are applied. In the future we can develop a sleep-and-drive prevention system whereby a device will tap the sleeper and wake him up; I want to make it happen quickly and am asking my staff to work on it. My dream is a system that would pick up the danger of collision and save the driver or passenger from being thrown [from the vehicle] and suffering injuries—something like a net that rescues a person before collision, because there are many cases where people are thrown and hit the road, an electric pole, a guardrail, and die instantly.
Toyota is enormously international, yet you don't have a single foreigner on your board of 26 people. Do you plan to change that?
Yes, but not for the sake of change. Only if there's a non-Japanese I deem to be deserving.
What kind of car do you drive?
In America, it's called Lexus LS and in Japan, Celsior.
Is there anything about it that annoys you, that makes you think, "I must tell my staff to fix this?"
As I drive my car I get many ideas. On many occasions I notice things and tell my engineers. I test-drive cars, too, and share my findings with the engineers. Either the design isn't good, it doesn't sound good, or the way the car is built isn't to my liking.
How do you retain this urgent sense that Toyota must keep changing and improving when you've worked there for 41 years? Aren't you tired of change by now?
I'm a very curious person by nature. My character leans toward aggressiveness and I like it that way. I immediately recognize the problem, know right away that something is far too expensive, that something needs improvement. I notice things, and I don't resist change.