EVs & Mobility

Hino’s workplace culture resulted in 20 years of carbon emissions lies

Why psychological safety matters


Hino’s workplace culture resulted in 20 years of carbon emissions lies
Cate Lawrence
Story by

Cate Lawrence

Cate Lawrence is an Australian tech journo living in Berlin. She focuses on all things mobility: ebikes, autonomous vehicles, VTOL, smart ci Cate Lawrence is an Australian tech journo living in Berlin. She focuses on all things mobility: ebikes, autonomous vehicles, VTOL, smart cities, and the future of alternative energy sources like electric batteries, solar, and hydrogen.

This week an inquiry into the lies of truck and bus maker Hino Motors revealed why the brand doctored emissionsdata on gas-guzzling engines over the last 20 years. Their excuse: company culture.  

Hino Motors, a Toyota Motor Corp affiliate, was found in March to have falsified data related to the carbon emissions and fuel performance of four engines – a deception that dates back to at least 2003. 

Unfortunately, emissions scandals are nothing new.  

a Hino
The Hino company is 51% owned by Toyota Motor Corp. Image credit: Hino

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The company joins the ranks of big dirty liars Volkswagen and Stellantis, who tried to downplay the impact of their vehicles on the environment. 

Both companies used software to manipulate the exhaust settings and cheat on emissions tests. 

VW initially blamed a couple of software developers going rogue for the scandal but later admitted to executive knowledge.  

But the results of the Hino investigation into the how and why blame an inward-looking and conservative company culture.

It “prevented each employee from carrying out his or her work with a sense of involvement and solidarity.” This led to a lack of psychological safety, with engineers feeling unable to challenge their superiors.  

What is psychological safety? 

According to Amy Edmonson, a professor of leadership and management at Harvard Business School, psychological safety is:

The belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes, and that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.

According to Reuters, the Committee chairperson of the Hino inquiry, Kazuo Sakakibara, told journalists that past successes blinded the company to “changes in the external environment and values or the ability to look at themselves directly.

“The organization has become an ill-organized one where people are unable to say what they cannot do.”

A team with a high level of safety gives people the confidence to admit mistakes, contribute to discussions, raise concerns, question decisions (including those of their superiors), and ask for help. 

How much is the Japanese work culture to blame? 

When you think of Japanese work culture, you probably imagine an old, deeply hierarchical company with excessively polite people who work long hours. 

They commit to the company until they retire. Fortunately, it’s changing, thanks to the mainstreaming of hybrid workplaces because of COVID and the fact that almost half of university students in Japan are women. 

But the automotive industry isn’t exactly known for diversity in the corporate divisions. Cases of sexual harassment persist. 

The factory floor may be more diverse but racially discriminatory. Workers in the US Hino factory complain about a lack of flexibility:

“You will be there most of your life. They do not care about your life outside of work. Just make Hino Motors the MILLIONS they make each year. You will probably be divorced, and your children will likely forget who you are.”

How will Hino improve its company culture? 

According to the report, Hino has committed to a range of cross-company changes, including: 

  • A revised “Basic Philosophy System” to guide all corporate activities to share values.
  • Renaming the “Hino Code of Conduct” the “Hino Way.”
  • Greater opportunities for dialogue at each level and workplace.
  • Regular communication from management. This includes efforts to create an environment where employees can speak up safely and are encouraged to do so.
  • Establishment of a chief engineering compliance officer/group.

Sure, it’s a pretty ambitious wishlist that says everything right. 

However, the “Hino Way” sounds like another form of groupthink — what got them into this mess. But the world is watching until the next emissions scandal erupts. 

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