Hao Tien

Senior Vice-president, Regional Sales & Marketing Toyota Motor Asia Pacific.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Senior Vice-president, Regional Sales & Marketing Toyota Motor Asia Pacific.

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IT is not unusual for someone in the automotive industry to have an engineering background, but it is strange when said person had no interest in cars in the first place. That’s exactly why it’s so curious to learn that 51-year-old Hao Tien spent the last 17 years working for Toyota. Hailing from Toronto, Hao’s first passion was trains, not automobiles. After earning a degree as an electrical engineer, he was hired as a project leader for Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), which was developing an automated train control system to eliminate the need for employees to manually throw track switches.When the project was implemented, his boss realised that Hao had a keen eye for business, and sponsored his pursuit of an MBA in strategic management. It wasn’t long before Toyota, which was one of CPR’s clients, recognised Hao’s talents as well.

How did you end up working at Toyota?

Toyota was one of my customers at CPR. I moved its cars from ship to train, train to truck and truck to dealer. In 1999, it was planning a big expansion and the chief executive offi cer of Toyota Canada called me up and asked me to join the company. So I went for it.

What attracted you to the Japanese car brand?

The passion for business, in terms of improvement, is very strong. Everything is targeted, measured and scheduled for improvement. The process of planning and execution is very precise. And that appeals to me because I’m an engineer. After I joined the company, I discovered its culture of continuous learning as well. Was your move to Singapore your choice? The company wanted to send me here, and I always wanted to work in Asia. I foresee the Asian region continuing to have very high growth potential over the next 10 to 20 years. Look at Vietnam, Myanmar and India – we’re just touching the surfaces of these markets.

What were some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced?

In 2008, we were dealing with the global financial crisis and a recall issue. I was looking after the North American market, so I had to deal with dealer problems. We had production cuts and rejected orders. Then in 2011, a big earthquake struck Japan. That caused a production shortage – dealers were asking for cars but stocks were limited. Later that year, we were aff ected by severe flooding in Thailand. I learned a lot about order taking, production planning and dealing with suppliers during those periods.

Why is the Prius popular in North America, but not in South-east Asia?

A petrol-electric hybrid is one of the best vehicles when it comes to the three Rs – reduce, reuse and recycle. Reduce the use of petrol, reuse and recycle energy via the brakes. But why it works in one market but not another is all down to the maturity of the population and political structure. If you have the will to go eco-friendly, the government will incentivise and educate the population. In South-east Asia, some governments are pushing consumers to buy smaller cars. Others are reducing their fuel subsidies so that everyone uses less fuel. But eventually, pollution will become so bad that governments will do everything to try and control it.

Is producing hybrid cars more harmful to the environment than making regular cars?

If you just look at one process, it doesn’t seem effi cient at all. But I urge people to see the overall picture, from the cradle to the grave. You have materials, production, usage and disposal. We compared all these for petrol, diesel and petrol-electric hybrid vehicles. Surprisingly, it only takes 5 percent more materials to make a hybrid than it does a regular car. There isn’t much of a diff erence when it comes to assembly and production.

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The savings on the usage side, however, is huge. On average, a hybrid’s emissions are 30 to 35 percent lower compared to a normal car’s. When it comes to disposing of a hybrid, it’s about the same. If you look at this matter from an effi ciency perspective, every car should be a hybrid!

Diesel engines are more effi cient than petrol ones. Why hasn’t Toyota gone into diesel-electric hybrids?

We have the technology to do this. However, in emerging markets where diesels are strong, hybrid vehicles are usually a lot more expensive. Generally speaking, diesel engines have worse PM2.5 emissions compared to petrol motors.As more people realise this, the problem will come to light. Eventually, governments won’t just regulate CO2 emissions but PM2.5 emissions as well.

Growing up, did you really have no interest in cars?

As a kid, I really loved trains. The first time I bought a car was after I got married. My wife needed a car, so I reluctantly bought one for her! It was a 1993 Toyota Corolla saloon [North American model] and we had it for 15 years, until my wife got into an accident. Thankfully, she was unhurt.

Which Toyota or Lexus model is your favourite?

I love the Lexus ES300h, which is my current company car. My alltime favourite Lexus is the SC430. That’s my baby!

Is it important for Toyota to have a halo model again?

Of course we want a halo model! This is the dream of engineers working in Toyota. I heard a rumour about a successor to the Supra that’s coming...