Better tomorrows April 16th, 2008
By James Kim
Deputy General Manager
New Business Development Team
Hyundai Motor Group (China) Ltd.
For about seven years after joining Hyundai Motor Company, I worked at the Purchasing Division and was in charge of purchases from Japanese equipment makers. In the course of my work, I became acquainted with my Japanese counterparts and now, I am fortunate to call some of them close friends. At the end of February, I met with my Japanese friends, Y and S.
S told me that in talking with Japanese technical staff and other acquaintances that Japanese companies no longer regard their Korean counterparts as a threat because they don’t have the same passion and attitude as before. In the late ‘80s when Japan’s bubble economy was bursting, Japanese companies became wary of Korean firms due to internal and external changes.
Y said that in his experience, when making new equipment purchases, Japanese automakers demanded equipment levels required for their situation after undertaking sufficient study and research. On the other hand, he said Korean engineers frequently demanded options for the most up-to-date features, surpassing those asked for by Japanese makers. Y cautiously opined that this passion and eagerness for new technology was a reflection of the culture code of Korean engineers.
But considering how the Japanese frequently distinguish between their public façade (Tatemae) and true feelings (Honne), I pondered over what their comments really meant. Although it may appear strange to Japanese makers who will “even wring out a dry rag,” the Korean culture code that favorably regards a certain level of tolerance may be reflected in the process of deciding specs for research equipment.
A major characteristic of the auto industry is the priority on completion based on strict adherence to rules and cooperation. As such, I believe that to Koreans, the auto industry not only represented the challenge of accumulating new technology and creating a culture of cooperation, but also of revamping Korean companies. Thanks to the advances that have been made, Korea’s auto industry has now reached international levels, especially in terms of production technology and quality.
However, for made-in-Korea cars to be truly recognized by customers worldwide, I feel that Korean automakers still face lofty goals. They need more original product development and have to build a sales system that can impress customers. To achieve these goals, the first step could be the systematic accumulation of know-how or sensibility. My Japanese friend Y had the following to say about sensibility.
A Korean lens maker brought in the latest production equipment with better options than those used by Hoya in an effort to beat the Japanese glass and lens maker. But regardless of the better equipment, the Korean company failed to produce goods of better quality and performance. The president of the Korean company discreetly called in Japanese technical staff to ask the reason for this. Their answer was as follows:
“The final performance of a product is not made by a machine, but by the heart and experience of the engineer who is operating the machine. Some Chinese makers also installed and are using equipment that are more expensive than that of major Japanese makers but are still ending up with quality or performance levels below their expectations. Recently, Chinese engineers have been asking similar questions.”
Kia is undergoing change. Change is being felt in production, sales and headquarters as all Kia employees strive to be designers. Kia employees are thinking harder about the problems they face and ways to overcome them. They are listening more attentively to customers to better accommodate their needs, and are striving to make speedier decisions and action plans.
Our beginnings may appear humble, but I look forward to the day when our combined efforts will prompt my Japanese friends to remark,
“Korean automakers are really something. By having greater flexibility and decision-making than their Japanese peers, Korean companies have achieved amazing results. We really are in awe of Korean makers.”
I believe that Kia will become such a Korean maker.