Toyota beat car shortages by tweaking lean production. : The Indicator from Planet Money Toyota pioneered just-in-time production. But this lean method is dangerous when car parts are in short supply, like in a pandemic. Today: How Toyota invented and reformed just-in-time production.

Toyota Camry, supply-chain hero

Toyota Camry, supply-chain hero

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Francois Lo Presti/AFP via Getty Images
Employees of Toyota, wear protective facemasks and gloves as they work on vehicles at the assembly line of the Toyota automobile plant in Onnaing, near Valenciennes, on April 23, 2020, as the factory reopened after more than a month break aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus). (Photo by FRANCOIS LO PRESTI / AFP) (Photo by FRANCOIS LO PRESTI/AFP via Getty Images)
Francois Lo Presti/AFP via Getty Images

Just-in-time production was pioneered by Toyota in the 1930s. By cutting inventories, factories could reduce waste. And the system was a revolution. Not just for Toyota, but for other car companies around the world. By the 1980s, just-in-time production — also known as lean production — was in business textbooks everywhere.

But this system did have a flaw. A flaw that became very apparent during the covid crisis.

Toyota knew this, and they had a secret weapon. The company had revamped the just-in-time approach that everyone else was using, just in time.

For a further explanation of Stacey and Darian's views on skinny jeans, listen to this previous episode of The Indicator.

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