China rises, quality lags

Manufacturing flaws a weakness for emerging superpower

It’s hard to believe now, but the phrase "Made in Japan" was once synonymous with laughably poor quality.

After the devastation of World War II, Japan’s industrial exports of the 1950s were indeed clumsily designed and poorly built. Yet within the span of a decade, a remarkable thing happened. A few Japanese products — first transistor radios, then cameras, then televisions — began to equal and finally surpass the quality of their American-made counterparts. During the 1970s, Japan’s auto industry followed suit.

In a stunning turnaround, "Made in Japan" became an assurance of exceptional quality.