Not losing face

Honda F1I must admit, I find the recent earth-shattering Japanese pullouts from high-end motorsport extremely disturbing, and, more to the point of this blog, extremely annoying. First Honda, gone from F1, now both Suzuki and – perhaps most importantly of all three – Subaru gone from the WRC.

In Japan, most of life revolves around not losing face. Let there be no doubt, these three companies have now lost face, big time. But every gram of reasoning behind these terrible pull-outs is the concept of the Japanese not losing AS MUCH face as they might have done without an economic crisis. I thought I’d put ‘Japan Losing Face’ into a Google search to see what it spat out. I came across this rather heavy article:

Rather than plow through the lot, here’s the important bit:

‘In high-context cultures, group harmony is of utmost importance. People in these cultures dislike direct confrontation, and for the most part avoid expressing a clear “no”. Evasion and inaccuracy are preferred in order to keep appearances pleasant. There is a danger of losing face simply by not reaching an agreement with another person or group, if that was the goal. Being humiliated before the group, or losing face before one’s constituents, can be a fate worse than death in some cases.[7]’

Right, be aware that I’ll never be able to explain how important ‘not losing face’ is to the Japanese. In the case of Honda, Subaru and Suzuki, face loss is dramatic, and humiliation is complete. The three companies have failed. Dismally. Just look at their results over the last couple of years: Honda has won just the one race and have had a dreadful time since their full return in 2005, Subaru haven’t won a rally for two years. Suzuki have been nowhere. But all three have been able to reduce loss of face by tagging this failure to ‘current global economic conditions’.

Honda, Takeo Fukui:

“Honda must protect its core business activities and secure the long term as widespread uncertainties in the economies around the globe continue to mount. A recovery is expected to take some time.

“Under these circumstances, Honda has taken swift and flexible measures to counter this sudden and expansive weakening of the marketplace in all business areas.

“However, in recognition of the need to optimize the allocation of management resources, including investment regarding the future, we have decided to withdraw from Formula One participation.”

Subaru, Ikuo Mori:

“Our business environment has rapidly deteriorated. In order to protect the Subaru brand we were forced to make this decision. Since the autumn, the global economic turmoil has led to the rapid shrinkage of auto markets both in developed and emerging nations.”

Suzuki (unattributed):

“In responding to the contraction of the automotive sales caused by recent global economic turmoil, Suzuki has been promptly taking possible countermeasures including the reassessment of its global production output. The company, however, foresees the shrinking trend in longer periods of time rather than a short-term phenomenon. To secure its own business environment for tomorrow, the organization reviews every aspect of the operations and decided to focus on the core business functions such as the manufacturing system, environment technologies, and development of new-generation powertrains. As a result, Suzuki concluded to suspend the WRC activities from 2009.”

Well, this is all terribly disappointing and is a result of failure to compete, more than anything. Yes, the credit crunch won’t make things easier, but here are three Japanese companies who have simply found top-level motorsport too difficult.

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