Toyota cruises to No. 1, Gives Motown a Hit to Ego
One story I found especially engaging Wednesday was the New York Time's coverage of Toyota's recent assension to No. 1 automaker worldwide, passing long-time leader G.M. The article was featured front and center of the Times' Business Day section, accompanied by a large photo and an emphatic headline, "Move Over G.M., Toyota is No. 1." Clearly, this was the biggest national business story of the day, and quite possibly internationally.
I found it interesting that at times the article read more like a euology than a hard news story, celebrating G.M.'s rise to the pinnacle of automaking and its 75-year reign as the world leader in this most American of industries, only to lament it's stumbles in recent year and resign G.M. as a fallen giant at the feet of a (Gasp!) foriegn automaker.
I really thought that this sentimental approach to covering the story was the appropriate choice. After reading about the real-life effects of the switch, which come later in the story, it becomes clear that this "passing of the torch" is really more of symbolic importance than anything else. Afterall, as I learned in the article, selling more cars doesn't necessarily translate to higher profit margins. The real story here is that G.M., and to a broader extent the United States, has to acknowledge that it finally has been out-performed at its own gig - carmaking - by a group of big thinkers from Tokyo, which also ties into the issue of a degrading Detroit.
My immediate reaction after reading the Times' article was to cross-examine it with coverage from a Tokyo-based source. Is the Japanese media hailing the news as a momentous occassion in automaking and a victory for Japan just as the Times has bemoaned it for the opposite reasons? Or is it just another meaningless milestone for the driven Tokyoites. Perhaps Toyota saw this day on the horizon for some time now, whereas G.M. failed to adequately use its rear-view mirrors. (*Note to the Reader: Please forgive me for all those puns, I couldn't resist.)
As a bit of a surprise, I failed to find much of any Japanese coverage on the story outside of the Associated Press version. (Of course, I was limited to exploring English-language sources, which could certainly account for the lack of findings.) Still, I have no choice but to assume that the news of the switch was a bigger deal in the States than in Japan. Perhaps it's because of America's long-standing cultural attachment to the auto industry that leads us to view this particular story through the scope of sadness rather than approach the story dispassionately like most business news. Regardless, it is interesting to observe in journalism how one story can be valued or ignored so unequally by the different parties involved.