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Another shiny black Japan Taxi.

Designed by committee, Toyota’s Japan Taxi becomes an expensive Olympic symbol.

That’s a damning headline, one that Olympic-haters love to see. News editors like it because they know readership will want to read and moan about the waste that the Olympics and other big-tent events incur. That’s why so many news channels picked up this May 22 Reuters story.

Toyota built a taxi that sticks out on the Tokyo roads – a black high-roofed automobile that boasts the Olympic and Paralympic logos – and they’re called “Japan Taxi”.

The Reuters article leads with the premise that the Japan Taxi has become a “high-priced icon of Tokyo’s budget-busting 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.” It goes on to state that the taxi was designed to answer too many stakeholder needs, including an air purifying conditioner, wheelchair ramp, liquefied petroleum and gas-hybrid engine – in other words, a Frankenstein-sort of taxi had been created. As a result, the car ended up retailing for over USD30,000, some USD7 to 8,000 more than the Toyota Crown that are gradually being replaced as taxis in Tokyo.

That is indeed a high price and Toyota admits to finding few interested buyers outside  Tokyo and Japan. Toyota admits they are losing money on this, manufacturing only 1,000 of these cars a month.

According to the article, taxi drivers have expressed discontent, although reasons beyond an unwieldy rarely-deployed wheelchair ramp are not provided. Additionally, taxi operators are concerned subsidies from the city and federal governments will disappear after the Olympics, although it is unclear in the article how big that overall cost is.

But what does the number one stakeholder think – the ones who are transported in Japan Taxi?

I’ll start with a highly unscientific study of one – myself. I LOVE these taxis! And I suspect I’m not alone. They’re easy to enter and they’re spacious – a business-class taxi with economy fares. You can cart your luggage in with ease. They’re classic looking, harking back to the design of the big old London taxis. And those who are wheelchair bound appear to have found an easier option.

The video report on this Reuters story (below) quotes Josh Grisdale, a wheelchair resident of Japan, who commented on the fact that before Japan Taxi you had to rely on specialized vans. Now he says you see Japan Taxi on the street all the time. “The most important thing is to have something available when you need it,” said Grisdale, the Head of Accessible Japan. “Up till now, you’ve had to book way in advance to book a taxi, and that’s very difficult for people who are not from Japan.

All the way at the end of the article, Reuters admits that taxi distributors actually like their Japan Taxis because “they consume half the fuel of older vehicles and their anti-collision sensors have reduced accidents by 10%,” and that “Toyota made other tweaks when it addressed the wheelchair ramp problem. It also made the automatic sliding passenger door close 1.5 seconds faster, reduced rear windscreen wiper noise with an intermittent setting and lowered the money tray on the driver’s seat to reduce shoulder strain.”

If a news agency comes out with a story on Japan Taxi about significant taxpayer money being wasted on something that  taxpayers don’t like, then fine. But my guess is that if you had a line of people waiting for taxis and the next two cars on the queue were a Japan Taxi and an older Toyota Crown (a perfectly fine car), the person first on line will likely be happy he’s not second.

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Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba and IOC President Thomas Bach seal the deal

China is sports mad. And when one of the biggest emerging markets in the world wants something, the eye may pop. For example, soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo was offered over USD100 million per year to play for a Chinese Super League Club, with an additional USD300 million to go to Real Madrid for the transfer.

While Ronaldo turned the Chinese down, others are turning their thumbs up.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, in mid-January, 2017, the International Olympic Committee announced the addition of Chinese e-commerce giant, Alibaba, to the IOC’s exclusive group of global sponsors known as TOP Sponsors. Alibaba is one of the biggest e-commerce businesses in the world, and joins such firms as Coca Cola, Toyota, Visa, McDonalds, Bridgestone, Samsung and GE granted rights to the marketing of the famed five rings.

This deal is huge: USD 800 million over 12 years or 6 summer and winter Olympiads. In addition to payment, Alibaba will also build a global shopping platform for the IOC, as well an Olympic-related digital TV channel in China, which will help build the IOC’s reach within this highly valued market. Considering that the 2022 Winter Olympics will be held in Beijing, Alibaba becomes a significantly powerful and possibly pathbreaking partner for the IOC in building stronger relations within Chinese business and government circles.

As Alibaba founder and CEO said, “We are proud to support Olympic Agenda 2020, using our innovations and technologies to help evolve the Olympic Games for the digital era.”

According to sports marketing consultant, Michael Payne, who was intimately involved in the early days of the IOC’s TOP program, “This is so much more than about marketing or sponsorship. It is potentially the single biggest, groundbreaking partnership the IOC has done to date.”

A pedestrian walks past Alibaba.com adve

Alibaba is a powerhouse in China, particularly with its e-commerce businesses T-Mall and Taobao. But these services are not as well-known as sites like Amazon, and those who know them may be wary of their reputation for selling counterfeit goods. Thus major brands and buyers…beware.

According to the IOC, building the e-commerce platform for the IOC will give Alibaba greater incentive to figure out how to uncover the counterfeit goods from flooding the market.

Additionally, its growing cloud services business is weak overseas. Jack Ma wants to increase global revenue ex-China to fifty percent. Cloud services is already an area where Alibaba is gaining global traction. Being a TOP sponsor will give Alibaba overseas exposure of the likes they would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere, particularly in their home region of Asia, where the next three Olympics will be held (PyeongChang, Tokyo and Beijing).

According to Bloomberg, Alibaba had to fight for this sponsorship. IOC TOP sponsors are given exclusive rights to market their products and services within their industry. Alibaba is the official “Cloud Services” and “E-Commerce Platform Services” and it is assumed that big cloud service providers (Amazon? Microsoft) were also in the mix.

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Dentsu CEO Tadashi Ishii
Dentsu is a $15 billion company, with a 25% share of the Japanese advertising market. It’s #1 in Japan, but not dominant, at least in terms of revenue. That’s fine, because Japanese companies, even large ones, don’t like to draw too much attention to themselves.

And yet, you can argue that Dentsu has become one of the most influential sports marketing companies in the world. Currently, Dentsu represents Tokyo2020 as exclusive agent to secure Japan sponsors for the upcoming 2020 Summer Games, signing up over 40 sponsors. It represents such international sports agencies as the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF), the International Football Association (FIFA), the International Swimming Federation (FINA), the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB), as well as the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), among many other sports organizations.

As sports marketing authority, David Cushnan, once told me, “if you are an international sports federation, or an international sports league that wants to go to Japan, then your first call is Dentsu. They can get you access.”

And as the Financial Times puts it, once you’re a client, they are so powerful it’s sometimes hard to tell who the client is. “It is not like any company in the world,” says a board member at one of Dentsu’s biggest clients. “You are the customer, but they are the master. Nobody ever says it, but over the years, you need them more than they need you. It is like an addiction.”

Dentsu may be glad to see 2016 over, however, as it was a tough year, nearly impossible to avoid the glare of the red-hot spotlight.

  • Black Tidings and AMS: In May, 2016, The British newspaper, The Guardian, revealed that a USD1.5 million payment was made in July, 2013 from a Japanese bank to an account with a person in a company called Athlete Management Services, affiliated with both the IAAF and Dentsu. This payment was prior to the vote for selection of the 2020 Olympic host city. After Tokyo was selected as the winning city in September, 2013, a second payment was made to the same account for another USD2 million.
  • Caught Overbilling: Toyota raised an alarm that they suspected Dentsu, hiding behind a notorious curtain of opaque transactional costs for online advertising, was overcharging them for ad placements. They were right. Not only that, over a 100 other companies were cheated as well, resulting in an announcement in late September, 2016 that Dentsu will reimburse an estimated 230 million yen ($2.3 million) back to customers.
  • Working Employees to the Extreme: Dentsu recently received the odious recognition being labeled the worst of the “Black Companies” in Japan. A “Black Company” in Japan is one considered a firm that blatantly exploits its employees. Much of this recognition was due to the horrible news that a first-year employee at Dentsu committed suicide. According to this article, the 24-year old woman, Matsuri Takahashi, jumped from the top of her company dormitory on Christmas Day in 2015, after working 100 hours of overtime the previous month.

Apparently, the notoriety around being considered a horrible place to work was the last straw. Dentsu’s president, Tadashi Ishii, announced last week that he would resign in March, 2017.

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Matsuri Takahashi and parents