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Competitive advantage and the development of Japan’s motorcycle industry, 1908-1965 Alexander, Jeffrey William Scott

Abstract

This study examines the historical development of Japan's motorcycle industry between 1908 and the mid-1960s. Using published Japanese company histories and interview transcripts, twenty companies out of more than two hundred Japanese motorcycle manufacturing firms are documented and their experiences are assessed. The subjects that are explored include: the introduction of motorized transportation to Japan in the early twentieth century; the parallels between the development of the motorcycle and other technologies; the influence of motor sports on vehicle sales in the 1920s; the policing of the nation's city streets as vehicle traffic and fatalities increased during the 1930s; the impact of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) and the Second World War (1939-1945) upon Japanese manufacturers; and the explosion and rapid convergence of the motorcycle industry in the postwar era. Through case studies of the industry's principal firms, an assessment is made of the challenges that faced Japan's small and medium-sized manufacturers before, during, and after the war era. These challenges reflect broader themes of interest to students of Japan's twentieth century industrial development. First among these is the nature of foreign direct investment and military spending in stimulating industrial self-sufficiency through import-substitution. This is followed by the impact of wartime industrial rationalization on Japan's manufacturing sectors, many participants firms in which went on to become motorcycle manufacturers after 1945. The study of their postwar efforts also enables the exploration of Allied industrial policies during the Occupation era (1945-1952) and the considerable influence that production directives had over postwar manufacturing. Finally, this study contrasts the experiences of Japan's successful postwar motorcycle makers with those of over a dozen failed companies in order to identify the specific competitive advantages possessed by the surviving firms - which numbered just four by 1970. It is argued that the success of Japan's surviving motorcycle makers is rooted not in their geographical locations or their prewar manufacturing niches, but is rooted principally in the technical and managerial experience that they earned as manufacturers of aircraft, engines, and related components during World War Two.

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