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The future of Japanese manufacturing in the UK



The expansion of Japanese FDI into the UK manufacturing sector during the 1980s and early 1990s gave rise to the debate on the Japanization of British industry. The paper argues that this debate was constructed from a Western perspective. It did not locate the strategies and structures of Japanese subsidiaries within the broader context of how Japanese multinational corporations were evolving in this period. The necessity to look at these issues from a more global perspective is reinforced by the changes which have occurred since the mid 1990s in the environment for Japanese multinationals. The global economy offers more choices to firms about their location as well as facing them with a more competitive environment. In the Japanese case, this is leading to a growing differentiation between standardized mass production (which can be located in Asia and Eastern Europe) and science-led sectors of industrial production (which necessitate location near to centres of research and development expertise in the USA and Europe). This means that Japanese firms are reconsidering the strategy and structure of their subsidiaries in the UK. Standardized mass production will only survive in the UK as long as costs can be pushed further down and productivity increased, both of which are difficult conditions to meet given possibilities elsewhere in the world for cheap mass production. The growing area of investment will be in science-based manufacturing, though here the UK will be competing against the USA and Germany for Japanese investment. Here, however, the organizational and management characteristics of Japanese subsidiaries will make the necessary connections with local managers and local networks of expertise difficult to achieve. Thus Japanese subsidiaries in the UK are in a period of prolonged uncertainty about their role in the future. These changes open up the necessity for a new agenda of research which goes beyond the japanization approach and is concerned with the organization and management of Japanese multinationals in an era of global competition

Topics: HF, HD28
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