January 5, 2001

New Year's Message

Happy New Year! At the start of 2001 and at the opening of a new century, let me wish you all the best and share some of my thoughts with you.

The automobile was first introduced at the end of the 19th century and went into mass production in the early part of the twentieth. Spreading rapidly throughout the world as a practical, highly convenient means of mobility and of transporting goods and people, it was a defining symbol of the past century. One hundred years ago, only 10,000 units were manufactured in a year. Today, about 50 million are produced annually, and about 700 million units are on the road worldwide.

The Japanese automobile industry made a full-scale entrance onto the world stage around 1970, a time that would be marked by a major oil crisis and the recognition of environmental pollution as a critical problem. It was during those years that consumers around the world began to welcome the quality of Japanese automotive technologies, and that Japan joined the ranks of the advanced auto-producing countries. Japan's automobile industry is now a global player in terms of technology, production, and sales. Holding a key role as a core industry, it has been an important contributor to Japan's transformation into an economic superpower.

Today, with the arrival of a new century, we should give thought to the next hundred years and to the need to maintain economic prosperity, as well as the vital and beneficial role of the automobile, so that our children and grandchildren may enjoy a secure and promising future. It is a time to stop and reflect, and I believe that it is also an opportunity for us to take new lessons from the past, to consider seriously what we can and ought to do for the future, and then draw up a roadmap accordingly.

From my viewpoint, the first priority is to continue taking on the challenge of technological innovation, because technological breakthroughs will offer fundamental solutions to many of the problems we will need to tackle in the coming years. Recently, with the threat of global warming affecting all of mankind and making energy issues all the more urgent, significant progress has been achieved in the automotive sector with the emergence of a whole host of advanced technologies, including those using hybrid systems and fuel cells; and the conventional engine too has seen revolutionary improvements. The day may eventually come when automobiles are virtually free from energy-related constraints. In the meantime, waste disposal and emission issues also need to be satisfactorily addressed, and again it will be technology that will provide the basic answers. Technological breakthroughs will in fact set the stage for sustainable development in the 21st century.

A second major challenge is the international harmonization of automotive regulations. In the last decade of the 20th century, automakers worldwide became increasingly involved in global alliances and cooperative relationships. Capital flow is now no longer confined by national boundaries, and this may eventually lead to an era of open competition in a single-market world. In preparation for such changes, standards for vehicle structure and performance need to be made uniform, although regional differences will survive to some extent. There will be greater benefit to consumers worldwide if open competition is carried out on the basis of shared international rules.

A third area of focus is innovations in the vehicles themselves. Much of the 20th century was spent in pursuit of material plenty, and the automobile can be regarded as a prime example of this trend. In the 21st century there will be very important progress in vehicle hardware and, at the same time, tremendous advances in IT to support vehicle use and operation. For example, IT will be able to understand a driver's needs and actually assist with driving; cars may even appear that can help soothe depression. One of the priorities of automobile manufacturing in this new century will therefore be to "integrate" vehicles and drivers via the medium of IT.

These are only a few examples, but I think they make it clear that the Japanese automobile industry must, at this juncture, thoroughly consider the directions it will move in and the positions it should take. Having an optimistic view of the future, making sure our feet are firmly grounded in practical realities, and moving ahead to broaden our everyday activities will be most crucial.

In response to the impact of corporate restructuring, Japan's economy until very recently was supported largely by government stimulus measures and increases in exports. Last year, however, we began to see optimistic signs for the economy, such as expanded investment in facilities and equipment, particularly in the IT sector.

At present Japan's automobile industry is also showing some promising signs. The past year saw year-on-year growth in domestic sales for the first time in four years, and in domestic production for the first time in three years. We should take advantage of these trends to ensure that a full-fledged recovery gets under way. The industry will do its best to promote growth in, for example, technological and product development. At the same time, we will continue to work with the government on taxation issues and the relaxation of regulations.

Other concerns have to do with the automobile's harmonious integration with society. Here priority must be given to recycling. In view of the positive results of JAMA's approach thus far which has been based on voluntary action plans, I believe that JAMA should play a prominent role in establishing a new infrastructure for vehicle recycling.

Environmental and safety issues are also critical, and our efforts in these areas should be aimed at increased fuel economy, reduced emissions, and improvements in vehicle safety. In the latter area, JAMA should work to put intelligent transport systems, including Japan's Advanced Cruise-Assist Highway System, into practical application as soon as possible. Also, we should maintain our public awareness activities, including the sponsorship of traffic safety and accident-prevention campaigns, and continue to encourage the development and dissemination of cars for the disabled and other special-purpose vehicles.

In the overseas arena, we will carry on our efforts to establish a dynamic global environment for international business operations. One such effort is JAMA's commitment to work in close cooperation with its counterpart organizations worldwide towards the creation of internationally harmonized vehicle standards.

The transition into the next one hundred years is just beginning, and the first steps will be significant. For its part, JAMA will do its utmost to address, on a cooperative basis, the issues confronting our industry, so as to build a better future for the generations to come.

On behalf of JAMA, let me say that we again look forward to your support and encouragement in 2001.