Saturday, 13 February 2010

Please read (link is here):
"'Toyota Way' was lost on road to phenomenal worldwide growth." Washington Post. Saturday, 13 February 2010.
The author, Blaine Harden, did a very good job of tracking down key academics and securities analysts (Jeff Liker, Sue Helper, me, Koji Endo) and pulling together their perspectives into a coherent story.
Mike Smitka

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

recent interviews etc

I've been quoted several times this past week. See for example the following May 7 Bloomberg story but note I'm unsure how long the link will work. A nearly identical version appears here on the (Bloomberg) Business Week site.
Mike Smitka

Sunday, 7 February 2010

The Revolution in Japanese Retailing

I don't just do autos, I also do research on Japan and teach to earn my keep, lately intro macroeconomics ("Principles"), a course on the Chinese economy (which I've been doing for a quarter century) and come this spring an intensive four-week course on the auto industry.

ere's a link to an article I wrote for the February 2010 edition of TOE (The Oriental Economist report at, part of a book project on the transformation of the Japanese economy since the bubble. I enjoyed working with Rick Katz, the editor, to get it to size, filling the available space, no more, no less. But I don't have anything on Japanese auto dealerships, nor does my co-blogger David Ruggles, who is also knowledgeable in that area. Soon...?
Changing retail, changing lifestyles: From mom & pop to malls
The link now works -- enough snow shoveled to get to campus and upload it. But more snow due tomorrow and again over the weekend....
Mike Smitka

Why Throttle-by-Wire not Cable?

I've seen many comments in discussion forums bemoaning the move from cable to electronic throttles. Here are a number of reasons why that's necessary. Part of this stems from a visit in January to a supplier that developed the vehicle stability system for the BRP Spyder three-wheel motorcycle. Though I'm not an engineer, I've sat through enough engineering presentations to give a sense of the "why."
First, e-throttles improve fuel efficiency; even a skilled driver will give too much or too little gas as they change speed, climb a hill, etc -- an electronic throttle acting through fuel injectors can adjust 50 times a second, probably faster... That's even more important if you have a turbocharger as it can take a while for them to adjust to a change in speed. And of course the output signal can also be used by the transmission to adjust the shift point if, for example, it senses a hard acceleration.
Second, e-throttles also allow emissions to be cut: add in not just throttle and wheel speed but also the oxygen sensor and an electronic throttle lets the engine adjust to reflect a host of other parameters, something impossible with a cable.
Third, you need it for traction control and stability control, as the car must be able to automatically ease off the throttle if it senses the wheels slipping.
Fourth, in a hybrid you have to coordinate the electric power with the engine power, there is no way for a person to process the data needed to do that, much less process the data and drive at the same time.
Fifth, you need it for fast stop/start where easing off on the gas or braking turns off the engine, and then turns the engine on again, all so fast that you don't notice it. That boosts fuel efficiency immensely, esp in city driving.
Sixth, cables are probably worse than an electronic throttle in terms of intrinsic quality, you have to keep dirt and moisture from getting in yet allow the cable to move in and out, you have to get the physical connection right in assembly, kinks or excessive vibration and you can have friction in one spot until it seizes. And you still need springs, and you can still get the pedal stuck on carpet or get your shoe jammed under it or. I've had to replace the gear shift cable, on a car but not a throttle cable that I can recall. Experienced boaters know to check their cables periodically -- I had a cousin killed when a steering cable failed and threw him from a boat.
Seventh, a cable is physically bigger than wires, weighs more, and costs more than a pedal sensor plus wires.
In short, the combination of consumer and regulatory constraints on a modern vehicle mandate an electronic throttle.

Mike Smitka

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Room for Debate: Toyota

For pieces aimed to stimulate debate by yours truly among others, see the February 4, 2010 NYTimes Opinion page "Room for Debate."
Mike Smitka