Toyota Bets Hybrids Are Still Short-Term Best Green Car Technology

(p. B3) TOKYO— Toyota Motor Corp. said most of its U.S. vehicles would still run on gasoline a decade from now because it doesn’t think fully electric vehicles will have caught up in cost and convenience.

Toyota doubled down on its commitment to a technology it pioneered, hybrid vehicles, which are fueled with gasoline but also have an electric motor that raises fuel efficiency. The company projected that in 2030, slightly more than half of the vehicles it sells in North America would be hybrids, while around 30% would run on traditional gasoline engines and the remainder would be fully electric.

“If you take a snapshot of 2030, the price of battery EVs and the provision of infrastructure around the globe probably won’t have advanced all that much,” said Toyota executive Jun Nagata at a news conference Wednesday. “Hybrids and plug-in hybrids will be easier for customers to buy.”

. . .

“The goal is not electric vehicles, the goal is carbon neutrality, and even if we have the best technology, if it’s not chosen by customers, it will not have the impact of reducing emissions,” Mr. Kuffner said at Wednesday’s news conference.

For the full story, see:

Peter Landers. “Toyota Doubles Down on Hybrid Technology.” The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., May 13, 2021): B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 12, 2021, and has the title “Most Toyotas Will Still Use Gasoline in 2030, Company Says.”)

SAS Entrepreneurs Forgo Billions in Order to Maintain Firm’s Tightknit Culture

Profits provide valuable information about whether a firm is doing something that consumers like, at a price they are willing to pay. But I think it is OK for a firm’s owners to seek less profits in return for more of some other values. Though personally, I would not forgo billions in order to preserve a yoga studio and a disc golf course.

(p. B1) Talks for Broadcom Inc. to buy SAS Institute Inc. have ended after the founders of the closely held software company changed their minds about a sale, people familiar with the matter said.

The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that the companies were discussing a deal that would value SAS in the range of $15 billion to $20 billion, including any debt. Following the report, Jim Goodnight and John Sall, who co-founded SAS decades ago and still run the company, had a change of heart and decided not to sell to Broadcom, the people said. Whether another suitor for SAS could emerge isn’t clear.

Some SAS employees saw the company as a strange fit for efficiency-focused Broadcom, some of the people familiar with the matter said. SAS is known for a tightknit culture and has a sprawling North Carolina campus with amenities including a yoga studio and a disc golf course.

For the full story, see:

Cara Lombardo. “SAS Calls Off Broadcom Talks.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., July 14, 2021): B1.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 13, 2021, and has the title “Broadcom No Longer in Talks to Buy SAS.” The words “and a disc golf course” appear in the online version, but not in the print version.)

Cuban Communists Ban “Patria y Vida”

I highlighted the spirit and courage of those who sang the “Patria y Vida” song in my blog entry on February 22, 2021.

(p. A1) The protesters pouring into streets across Cuba have a common rallying cry: “Patria y Vida,” or “Fatherland and Life.” The phrase comes from a hip-hop song released a few months ago by dissident Cuban artists who set out to challenge the government—and in the process helped spark a wave of protests against the 62-year communist regime.

In the demonstrations that began Sunday, Cubans have called for an end to the regime, protesting the scarcity of food and medicine amid a surge of coronavirus cases. For Cuba’s frustrated youth in particular, “Patria y Vida” has become a danceable protest anthem and a viral sensation, with nearly six million views on YouTube.

. . .

(p. A8) The Cuban regime has banned any playing of “Patria y Vida.” The lyrics respond to Cuba’s revolutionary motto of “Patria o Muerte,” or “Fatherland or Death,” with lines like: “No more lies! My people demand freedom. No more doctrines! / Let us no longer shout ‘Fatherland or Death’ but ‘Fatherland and Life.’ ”

. . .

Messrs. Castillo, Otero and about 20 others created the San Isidro Movement to challenge the government by taking art from the galleries and music studios to the street, making performances public and organizing independent exhibits. The name came from the neighborhood where Messrs. Castillo and Otero live in Old Havana.

. . .

“It’s your fault that a whole nation is suffering,” sang Mr. Castillo in a song titled “Because of You, Sir,” and directed to Fidel Castro. The video juxtaposes images of the famed revolutionary leader next to rundown scenes of Havana, with hungry and hopeless residents looking through garbage.

Weeks after the release of “Patria y Vida,” police attempted to arrest Mr. Castillo near Mr. Otero’s home, but hundreds of angry San Isidro residents forced them to retreat. Video that was later shared widely captured him strutting on the street shirtless with a pair of handcuffs dangling from his wrist, while hundreds in the crowd sang “Patria y Vida” . . . .

For the full story, see:

Santiago Pérez and José de Córdoba. “Rap Artists Stir Cuban Protests.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, July 14, 2021): A1 & A8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 13, 2021, and has the title “‘Patria y Vida’: The Dissident Rappers Helping Drive Cuba’s Protests.” The online version of the article says the print version had the title “The Artists Rattling Cuba’s Regime,” but my print version had the title “Rap Artists Stir Cuban Protests.” I think I receive the Central edition, but can’t find where that is stated.)

Highly Praised Robot Is Replaced by Humans in a Variety of Jobs

(p. A1) TOKYO—Having a robot read scripture to mourners seemed like a cost-effective idea to the people at Nissei Eco Co., a plastics manufacturer with a sideline in the funeral business.

The company hired child-sized robot Pepper, clothed it in the vestments of Buddhist clergy and programmed it to chant several sutras, or Buddhist scriptures, depending on the sect of the deceased.

Alas, the robot, made by SoftBank Group Corp., kept breaking down during practice runs. “What if it refused to operate in the middle of a ceremony?” said funeral-business manager Osamu Funaki. “It would be such a disaster.”

Pepper was fired. The company ended its lease of the robot and sent it back to the manufacturer. After a rash of similar mishaps across Japan, in which Pepper botched its job at (p. A10) a nursing home and gave baseball fans a creepy feeling, some people are saying the humanoid itself will need a funeral soon.

. . .

. . . , a Japanese hotel chain created a robot-operated hotel, with dinosaur-shaped robots handling front-desk duties, only to reverse course after the plan failed to save money and created more work for humans.

Pepper was given a perky demeanor and programmed to grasp human emotions and engage in basic conversation. It starred in some early demonstrations. But like a candidate who puts on a fine performance at his job interview only to drive his bosses crazy later, Pepper lacked the skills it said it had, say some of his managers.

In 2016, a Tokyo-area nursing-home operator called Ittokai introduced three units of Pepper, each at a cost of around $900 a month, to lead singing and exercises for elderly people at the home.

“Users got excited to have it early on because of its novelty,” said Masataka Iida, an executive at the company. “But they lost interest sooner than expected.” Mr. Iida said Pepper’s repertoire of exercise moves was limited and, owing to mechanical errors, it sometimes took unplanned breaks in the middle of its shift. After three years, the company pulled the plug.

. . .

SoftBank also touted Pepper as a companion for the home. The initial batch of 1,000 units sold out in a minute despite the hefty price tag.

Technology journalist Tsutsumu Ishikawa said he “fell in love at first sight” after seeing Mr. Son, the SoftBank chief, present a futuristic picture of living with a chatty Pepper.

After arriving at the Ishikawa home, however, Pepper couldn’t recognize the faces of family members or carry on a proper conversation, said Mr. Ishikawa. The robot, connected to the cloud, is supposed to remember the family even after a breakdown, Mr. Ishikawa says, but when Pepper returned home after the repair of a sensor, Pepper greeted him, “Nice to meet you!”

He shipped the robot back to SoftBank in 2018 after spending at least $9,000 over the three-year life of his subscription services agreement; he wasn’t eligible for any form of refund.

“It was such a waste of money. I still regret it,” he said.

For the full story, see:

Miho Inada. “Humanoid Robot Keeps Getting Fired From Jobs.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, July 14, 2021): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 13, 2021, and has the title “Humanoid Robot Keeps Getting Fired From His Jobs.”)

India’s Tata “Paid a Harsh Price” for Keeping Distance from Government

(p. A15) Mr. Raianu, a historian at the University of Maryland, is guilty of no hype when he titles his book “Tata: The Global Corporation That Built Indian Capitalism.”

. . .

No other company has dominated the history of its national commerce and industry quite as much as the house of Tata in India, where it is one of the few major businesses still regarded as unstained by overt corruption. Although family-run for most of its existence—the stubborn Indian norm for merchants—the Tata company was from an early date “unusual” among India’s corporate groups (Mr. Raianu says) in employing professional executives and “talented nonrelatives.” The company also “kept its distance from the state” in both colonial and postcolonial times. It gave only lukewarm support to the Indian National Congress, which meant that the Tatas had few political chips to cash when the Congress party came to govern a free India. It paid a harsh price for this aloofness when Air India—the Tatas’ thriving aviation arm—was nationalized by Prime Minister Nehru in 1953.

. . .

The Parsi character of the company has, in many ways, helped it to transcend the mud pit of Indian business. The Parsis are a minuscule community, numbering around 57,000 Indians today. Practitioners of Zoroastrianism, they fled to India in the eighth century when Persia came under the sway of Islam. They embraced Western ways more readily than other Indians and, as a result, thrived under the British. Parsis, writes Mr. Raianu, “typified the religious minority exempt from ritual restrictions of caste and guild systems, much like European Jews.” And so they were more ready to look outward—to foreign opportunities—than the hidebound Indian business castes.

For the full review, see:

Tunku Varadarajan. “BOOKSHELF; From Homestead to Hegemony.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, July 14, 2021): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 13, 2021, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Tata’ Review: From Homestead to Hegemony.”)

The book under review is:

Raianu, Mircea. Tata: The Global Corporation That Built Indian Capitalism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2021.

Supply Chain Fragility During Pandemic Undermines “Just-in-Time” Business Dogma

(p. A1) TOKYO— Toyota Motor Corp. is stockpiling up to four months of some parts. Volkswagen AG is building six factories so it can get its own batteries. And, in shades of Henry Ford, Tesla Inc. is trying to lock up access to raw materials.

The hyperefficient auto supply chain symbolized by the words “just in time” is undergoing its biggest transformation in more than half a century, accelerated by the troubles car makers have suffered during the pandemic. After sudden swings in demand, freak weather and a series of accidents, they are reassessing their basic assumption that they could always get the parts they needed when they needed them.

“The just-in-time model is designed for supply-chain efficiencies and economies of scale,” said Ashwani Gupta, Nissan Motor Co.’s chief operating officer. “The repercussions of an unprecedented crisis like Covid highlight the fragility of our supply-chain model.”

. . .

(p. A10) One day in 1950, Toyota executive Taiichi Ohno visited an American supermarket and marveled how the shelves were restocked as they were emptied, as Jeffrey Liker recounts in his book “The Toyota Way.” Shoppers were kept happy even though the supermarket had only small storerooms. It was the polar opposite of the car industry where warehouses were kept full of sheet metal and tires to ensure the assembly line never shut down.

Supermarkets had little choice, since they couldn’t stockpile bananas for months. Still, Mr. Ohno reasoned, their practices eliminated waste and cut costs. Toyota would only pay for what it needed to produce cars for a day. That meant they could make do with smaller factories and warehouses.

. . .

The tide began to turn with the global financial crisis. At least 50 auto suppliers went bankrupt, catching car makers by surprise. When suppliers like Visteon Corp. , a maker of air conditioners, radios and other components, declared bankruptcy, it led to fears that car factories relying on Visteon would also be unable to operate.

A different shock prompted a rethinking of just in time at the company where it started. The 2011 earthquake in northern Japan hit Toyota suppliers including chip maker Renesas Electronics Corp.

. . .

For certain components, Toyota asked its suppliers to stockpile parts, the antithesis of just in time. The on-hand inventory held by Toyota’s largest supplier, Denso Corp., rose to around 50 days’ worth of supply in the year ended March 2020, up from 38 days in 2011, according to its financial filings. Denso declined to comment on inventory figures but said it has started keeping emergency stores of parts, especially semiconductors.

Toyota’s efforts have helped it weather this year’s shortages of semiconductors better than many of its rivals, although it wasn’t perfect.

For the full story, see:

Sean McLain. “Auto Makers Hit Brakes On Just-in-Time Manufacturing.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, May 04, 2021): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 3, 2021, and has the title “Auto Makers Retreat From 50 Years of ‘Just in Time’ Manufacturing.”)

The most recent edition of the classic book on Toyota’s success, mentioned above, is:

Liker, Jeffrey. The Toyota Way, 14 Management Principles from the World’s Greatest Manufacturer. 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2021.

Serendipitous Water Cooler Collaboration “Is More Fairy Tale Than Reality”

(p. B1) When Yahoo banned working from home in 2013, the reason was one often cited in corporate America: Being in the office is essential for spontaneous collaboration and innovation.

. . .

Yet people who study the issue say there is no evidence that working in person is essential for creativity and collaboration. It may even hurt innovation, they say, because the demand for doing office work at a prescribed time and place is a big reason the American workplace has been inhospitable for many people.

“That’s led to a lot of the outcomes we see in the modern office environment — long hours, burnout, the lack of representation — because that office culture is set up for the advantage of the few, not the many,” said Dan Spaulding, chief people officer at Zillow, the real estate market-(p. B7)place.

“The idea you can only be collaborative face-to-face is a bias,” he said. “And I’d ask, how much creativity and innovation have been driven out of the office because you weren’t in the insider group, you weren’t listened to, you didn’t go to the same places as the people in positions of power were gathering?”

“All of this suggests to me that the idea of random serendipity being productive is more fairy tale than reality,” he said.

. . .

“There’s credibility behind the argument that if you put people in spaces where they are likely to collide with one another, they are likely to have a conversation,” said Ethan S. Bernstein, who teaches at Harvard Business School and studies the topic. “But is that conversation likely to be helpful for innovation, creativity, useful at all for what an organization hopes people would talk about? There, there is almost no data whatsoever.”

“All of this suggests to me that the idea of random serendipity being productive is more fairy tale than reality,” he said.

. . .

. . . Professor Bernstein found that contemporary open offices led to 70 percent fewer face-to-face interactions. People didn’t find it helpful to have so many spontaneous conversations, so they wore headphones and avoided one another.

. . .

. . . some creative professionals, like architects and designers, have been surprised at how effective remote work has been during the pandemic, while scientists and academic researchers have long worked on projects with colleagues in other places.

Requiring people to be in the office can drive out innovation, some researchers and executives said, because for many people, in-person office jobs were never a great fit. They include many women, racial minorities and people with caregiving responsibilities or disabilities. Also, people who are shy; who need to live far from the office; who are productive at odd hours; or who were excluded from golf games or happy hours.

For the full commentary, see:

Claire Cain Miller. “THE UPSHOT;Returning to the Office? The Myth of Serendipity.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sunday, July 2, 2021): B1 & B7.

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated July 1, 2021, and has the title “THE UPSHOT; Do Chance Meetings at the Office Boost Innovation? There’s No Evidence of It.”)

The Bernstein research mentioned above is:

Bernstein, Ethan, and Ben Waber. “The Truth About Open Offices.” Harvard Business Review 97, no. 6 (Nov./Dec. 2019): 82-91.

Harvard Democrat Larry Summers Says Trillion Dollar Stimulus Was “Least Responsible” Policy of Past 40 Years

(p. 1) Larry Summers has split his pandemic time between houses in Massachusetts and Arizona. He also seems to live inside the collective mind of the Washington economic establishment.

. . .

Mr. Summers spent his last White House stint as a top economic adviser, when the administration settled for a smaller Great Recession stimulus package out of political practicality, and has since disputed criticism by saying he favored more spending then. He has spent 2021 protesting that the $1.9 trillion spending package the Biden administration passed in March was too large for reasons both political and economic, while fretting that the Federal Reserve will be too slow to sop up the mess. The result, he has warned, could be an overheating economy and runaway inflation.

Other respected academics were repeating variations on the same theme, though most economists argued that a 2021 price pop was more likely to be short-lived. But it was Mr. Summers, a longtime Harvard pro-(p. 6)fessor, whose brash declarations worked a sort of nerd magic, drawing the boundaries of the debate and forcing the White House — one he largely supports — on the offensive.

Mr. Summers had combined the swagger of a former Treasury secretary with the gravitas of a respected academic and punchy lines — the stimulus wasn’t just a bad idea, according to him, it was the “least responsible” policy in four decades — to set off a national conversation that was hard to ignore.

. . .

. . . Mr. Summers has said he takes issue not with the idea of spending aggressively to break the economy out of a malaise, but with the magnitude and style — the trillions spent to combat the pandemic downturn exceeded the size of the hole it blew in the economy, basically. He seemed to worry that if he didn’t speak out, there would be too little discussion of the risks.

. . .

Whether or not Mr. Summers turns out to be the sage of Scottsdale and Brookline, his staying power is perhaps best understood as a statement about what he represents: the belief that government spending has real if hard-to-know boundaries, and that trying to measure and work within economic and practical limits can lead to better policymaking.

For the full story, see:

Jeanna Smialek. “Larry Summers: Yelling From the Sidelines.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sunday, June 27, 2021): 1 & 6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated June 26, 2021, and has the title “Why Washington Can’t Quit Listening to Larry Summers.”)

Bezos’s Intuitions Drove Amazon’s Innovations

(p. 12) . . . Alexa, the voice coming out of my Echo, more or less is Jeff Bezos. He came up with the idea of a smart speaker in January 2011, back in the era of Google Plus and the iPod Shuffle. Bezos emailed his top deputies that month and declared, “We should build a $20 device with its brains in the cloud that’s completely controlled by our voice.”

For the next nearly four years, he obsessively micromanaged the project, pushing teams in Atlanta and Gdansk to make speech recognition seamless. He put in place a surreal testing protocol that involved hiring temps to spend days in empty apartments chattering away to silent speakers, and berated executives who told him it would take decades to develop speech recognition. He took home an early Echo prototype and when, in a moment of frustration, he told it to go “shoot yourself in the head,” it sent a wave of panic through the engineers who were listening in. He even came up with the idea for the LED ring on top, Stone writes, and with the name “Alexa” (in homage to the ancient library of Alexandria).

. . .

Amazon in the 2010s was an intensely personal venture, run by one of the wealthiest men in the world according to his own desires and reflecting his own personality.

. . .

Like Alexa, Amazon as a company seems to embody some of Bezos’ best personal qualities (his relentless drive to get you that package on time) and his worst (an “informal cruelty” that defines his company’s culture and requires that his factory workers and executives make personal sacrifices for corporate needs).

At Amazon, nearly every big decision comes down to a meeting with Bezos, at which his deputies hold their breaths, genuinely uncertain of whether he will berate them and tear up their proposals, or double their planned budgets. Some of his fixations, like his determination to create a smart speaker, are visionary.

. . .

It was, Stone writes, “a different style of innovation,” in which employees “worked backwards from Bezos’ intuition and were catering to his sometimes eclectic tastes (literally).”

For the full review, see:

Ben Smith. “Colossus.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, June 13, 2021): 12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review was updated June 17,, 2021, and has the title “To Understand Amazon, We Must Understand Jeff Bezos.”)

The book under review is:

Stone, Brad. Amazon Unbound: Jeff Bezos and the Invention of a Global Empire. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2021.

Many People Hope “to Achieve Some Wealth”

The “Mr. Doggett” who is quoted below is “Representative Lloyd Doggett of Texas, a senior Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee.”

(p. A12) Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, pressed Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen last week on Ms. Warren’s proposed wealth tax, which would impose a 2 percent surtax on the value of assets owned by people worth more than $50 million — and raise at least $3 trillion.

. . .

Other Democrats, even liberals, are not so sure.

“The whole term of a wealth tax scares an awful lot of people who are hoping to achieve some wealth,” Mr. Doggett said. “We don’t want to discourage economic success. We just want to level the playing field.”

For the full story, see:

Jonathan Weisman. “Bipartisan Infrastructure Talks Collide With Democrats’ Goal to Tax Rich.” The New York Times (Mon., June 21, 2021): A12.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 20, 2020, and has the title “Bipartisan Infrastructure Talks Collide With Democrats’ Goal to Tax the Rich.”)

Subsidies for Black Farmers Fuel Claims of “Reverse Racism” and “All Farmers Matter”

(p. 1) LaGRANGE, Mo. — Shade Lewis had just come in from feeding his cows one sunny spring afternoon when he opened a letter that could change his life: The government was offering to pay off his $200,000 farm loan, part of a new debt relief program created by Democrats to help farmers who have endured generations of racial discrimination.

It was a windfall for a 29-year-old who has spent the past decade scratching out a living as the only Black farmer in his corner of northeastern Missouri, where signposts quoting Genesis line the soybean fields and traffic signals warn drivers to go slow because it is planting season.

But the $4 billion fund has angered conservative white farmers who say they are being unfairly excluded because of their race. And it has plunged Mr. Lewis and other farmers of color into a new culture war over race, money and power in American farming.

. . .

(p. 19) The plans have drawn thousands of enraged comments on farm forums and are being fought by banks worried about losing interest income. And some rural residents have rallied around a new slogan, cribbed from the conservative response to the Black Lives Matter movement: All Farmers Matter.

. . .

“It’s a bunch of crap,” said Jeffrey Lay, who grows corn and soybeans on 2,000 acres and is president of the county farm bureau. “They talk about they want to get rid of discrimination. But they’re not even thinking about the fact that they’re discriminating against us.”

. . .

. . . rural residents upset with the repayments call them reverse racism.

White conservative farmers and ranchers from Florida, Texas and the Midwest quickly sued to block the program, arguing that the promised money amounts to illegal discrimination. America First Legal, a group run by the former Trump aide Stephen Miller, is backing the Texas lawsuit, whose plaintiff is the state’s agriculture commissioner.

“It’s anti-white,” said Jon Stevens, one of five Midwestern farmers who filed a lawsuit through the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, a conservative legal group. “Since when does Agriculture get into this kind of race politics?”

. . .

One recent afternoon, a friend, Brad Klauser, who runs his family’s large cattle and grain farm, swung by Mr. Lewis’s barn to catch up. As they talked bills, rising fuel costs and sky-high land prices, the conversation turned to the debt relief that only one of them was eligible to receive.

“Everybody should have the same option,” said Mr. Klauser, who is white, leaning on the flatbed of Mr. Lewis’s pickup. “Do you think you’re disadvantaged?”

“There’s definitely disadvantages,” Mr. Lewis replied, saying that officials scoffed when he first tried to get a federal farm loan. “They didn’t take me serious.”

After Mr. Klauser headed home, Mr. Lewis thought about how the two friends were both trying to reap a profit from the land. “Everyone should have a chance at farming,” he said.

For the full story, see:

Jack Healy. “Windfall for Black Farmers Roils Rural America.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, May 23, 2021): 1 & 19.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated May 24, 2021, and has the title “‘You Can Feel the Tension’: A Windfall for Minority Farmers Divides Rural America.”)