Toyota sees motivation as the certain route to quality: A Japanese firm is aiming to employ 3,000 staff producing 200,000 cars a year in Derbyshire. Jonathan Foster looks at its paternalistic style

Click to follow
The Independent Online
TOYOTA is still hiring. Inside the new factory in the Midlands, inspired by mid-west mall architecture, they will need more production workers next month as output of the middle range Carina increases toward its annual target of 100,000 cars by 1994.

Beyond Toyota's arborial landscaping, suppliers of components and services are establishing roots in a regional automotive economy which could be worth pounds 100m a year if the plant achieves its long-term aim of 200,000 cars a year and 3,000 jobs. Production began yesterday on the site of a former private aerodrome at Burnaston, Derbyshire, between Derby and Burton on Trent.

Burnaston is a commuter factory. Of 1,100 people on the payroll, most of them represented by the engineering workers' union, about 90 per cent live within 35 miles of the plant, hardly any within a bicycle ride. The average employee is aged 30, male, and has no experience of working in automotive industries. He has been recruited by psychological tests of motivation, and trained in Britain, Japan or the US at a cost of pounds 7.2m to Toyota and nothing to Derbyshire County Council.

Only 78 of the workforce are Japanese. The manufacturing regime lays emphasis on teamwork and consensus, a pattern of working practices Toyota insists is its own, not part of any generic Japanese system.

Those already on the payroll claim there is an obsessive drive for - and pride in - quality. It was familiar to those who had worked in the past for Rolls- Royce in Derby, an employer which, until recently, affected a similar paternal style.

'There is a theory of a Japanese master plan, a global economic conspiracy. I do not subscribe to it at all,' Rosemary Yates, Japanese expert with the Sheffield-based commercial lawyers Dibb Lupton Broomhead, said.

'Instead, there are a lot of individuals under intense pressure to get the factory going, anxious about their market share, trying to get round protectionism.'

Ms Yates advised the county council when it persuaded Toyota in 1989 to choose Burnaston in preference to sites which carried Whitehall grants. Derbyshire had the right geography, the right greenfield site, and the right manners in dealing with Toyota - 'deference, but not subservience', Ms Yates said.

The decorous behaviour has been mutual. Toyota took care to re-locate badger setts, invited local people to tea in a marquee; Mr Suzuki, now back in Japan after supervising factory construction, will be warmly remembered in Hatton, Egginton, and Etwall.

Representatives of local villages, a ring of about a dozen affluent rural communities around the plant, formed a committee which liaised with Mr Suzuki.

'We've met every month or two months since 1989,' Margaret Roe, a local councillor who chaired the committee, said.

'There was never any great hostility. People were 50-50 between those who wanted it left as it was and those who realised the importance to the region of the jobs.'

Ms Yates added: 'Toyota have cared about getting on with the community. They do not have that role in Japan, and they were keen to do the right thing in Burnaston. In my experience, Japanese investment has been hugely to the benefit of the UK because of their higher profile, the peripheral benefits and because of the importance of quality. British companies have learned a lot.'

But Ms Yates thinks there may not be much more to learn. 'The big wave of Japanese investment has been and gone,' she said. German crisis, page 24

Commentary, page 25