The Bicycle Transforming the Future of Mobility
Since 2012, Katayama Kogyo, a leading automotive parts manufacturer, has been commercializing a surprising and innovative creation: The Walking Bicycle. This next-generation vehicle combining health consciousness, comfort and environmental care, is about
Behind all of Japan’s world-leading carmakers are the chukenkigyo – strong medium sized firms that produce and supply them with highquality components. One of these firms is Katayama Kogyo, which provides automotive parts, and construction machinery and agricultural machinery parts worldwide.
The company was established in 1947 and in the U.S. has a production base in Shelbyville, Kentucky, which provides parts to automotive manufacturers in Alabama, Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois. While the majority of the company’s business is through Tier 1 relationships with these manufacturers, it also has established Tier 2 relationships to expand its foothold in the industry. Its current customer portfolio covers over 20 North American vehicle nameplates.
“Consumers do not know about Katayama Kogyo but we are recognized among the automobile carmakers in the industry as we work with important brands to provide them with every automobile part they need,” says president, Masayuki Katayama.
“We provide products for some of the most recognized companies in the industry, such as General Motors, Chrysler and Ford. These companies visit the headquarters of different competitors in the industry to choose the best solutions for their cars. They visit automotive parts makers not only in Japan but also in competitor countries like South Korea. The difference they find is that even if we might not be as competitive in terms of price, we offer added value for them.”
Now in its 71st year, Katayama Kogyo has been looking to diversify into new markets and develop new products and innovations for the 21st century. Mr. Katayama points out that younger generations today are less concerned about owning automobiles and are open to other forms transport, particularly more environmentally friendly options.
“As a consequence, looking to the future, we won’t focus just on the automotive business,” he says.
“In 2009 we came up with the idea of a new product, the Walking Bicycle. We dedicated a team of engineers and designers to work exclusively on this product. They have been developing new parts specifically conceived for this new product and in 2014 we started offering the Waking Bicycle to the public.”
Mr. Katayama recalls that he came up with idea when a good friend asked him to develop a mobility solution for his father who was in his 80s and loved walking around Tokyo. After they developed the Walking Bicycle with elderly people in mind, the company realized that it would be best marketed to younger people, as a healthy and eco-friendly transport alternative.
“With the Walking Bicycle we want to promote a healthy and active lifestyle. Automatic driving solutions and technology are an alternative for us to use less energy. The Walking Bicycle is an alternative to that perspective,” explains Mr. Katayama.
“In terms of technology, the Walking Bicycle is a technologically advanced product focused on promoting the basic function of the human body: walking. We want to transmit the message that there is an alternative to traditional cars that allows you to remain active. Besides that healthy perspective it is also a great alternative and environmentally friendly solution for transport in cities.”
Car companies like General Motors, Chrysler and Ford have trusted in Katayama’s high-quality products for years. But as Mr. Katayama has pointed out, the company remains behind the scenes and unknown to the end consumer, like so many of Japan’s chukenkigyo. But the company is coming out of the shadows with the Walking Bicycle, a fine example of ‘Made in Japan’ quality and a product of the monozukuri philosophy and attention to detail. Each piece is meticulously assembled and polished by hand. By using such things as premium paint, the famously high quality of Japanese manufacturing is apparent in every component of the Walking Bicycle.
“With the Walking Bicycle we want to promote a healthy and active lifestyle. Automatic driving solutions and technology are an alternative for us to use less energy. The Walking Bicycle is an alternative to that perspective” Masayuki Katayama, President, Katayama Kogyo