Toyota is hiring Europeans to run its European business. That's a sure sign of seriousness in the pursuit of market share.
Not that we needed another sign. Toyota just announced that it will build a plant in France. But hiring senior executives away from local companies is a new approach for the Japanese in Europe. When the quotas come down after 1999, Toyota, Nissan and the other Japanese will be attacking hard.
Toyota has hired Audi sales and marketing chief Juan Jose Diaz Ruiz as its No. 2 executive in Europe. It was a clever move. Before Audi, Ruiz was the top marketing executive at Seat. He is multi-cultural and pan-European - the kind of executive Toyota needs.
The chase won't stop there.
'To be prepared for the next millennium, we need European top managers,' says Toyota Motor Europe Chairman Tatsuo Takahashi.
Japanese sales in the USA grew after the oil shocks. But hiring bright young GM, Ford and Chrysler marketing executives in the 1970s may have been more important.
The US executives built enormous power bases that gave them real clout back in Tokyo. They didn't win every battle with their Japanese supervisors, but they got most of the product and resources they needed.
At some companies the power became arrogance. In the boardrooms of Tokyo, executives from time to time lamented the authority given to the Americans. Some Japanese bosses even seemed to fear their US underlings, and they vowed not to repeat the 'mistake' in Europe.
But power makes it all work. European executives will need full status to compete effectively. Toyota seems to understand that.