The Toyota Philosophy: Learning and Improving

In our last article on the quality issues at Toyota it became apparent that although these were perhaps not as significant as first thought and portrayed by the US media, Toyota needed to consider identifying changes that would prevent the recurrence of the problem.

In early February 2010, President Akio Toyoda acknowledged in an opinion piece he wrote for The Washington Post the company had “failed to connect the dots” between the sticky pedals in Europe, surfacing as early as December 2008, and those in the US that culminated in the massive recalls. Whilst the errors in Europe were corrected, starting with the Aygo hatchback in August 2009, those models were not included in the latest global recalls.

Toyota Europe spokesman, Colin Hensley, stated that in principle, such fixes stemming from customer complaints are communicated via headquarters for speedy checks in other regions. Confounding the effort were factors such as the European models being right-hand drives and mostly manual transmission, according to him.

Analysts noted that the learning and improvements from the recalls were a challenge for the Toyota manufacturing philosophy, partly because the recalled parts were not due to factory errors or quality control problems but because of design issues leading to consumer complaints. Better communication of consumer issues with management was needed.

In early 2010, a new global quality committee to coordinate defect analysis and future recall announcements was announced by Toyota, along with product recalls. The introduction of a Swift Market Analysis Response Team (“SMART”) in the US will conduct on-site vehicle inspections. Improvements in expanded Event Data Recorder usage and readers, third-party quality consultation, and increased driver safety education initiatives included other activities.

Apart from that, in February 2010, released the findings on its review of all NHTSA complaints from 2001. It noted that any individual can file a NHTSA complaint without providing a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), but this can lead to misleading statistics as “not all NHTSA complaints are created equal” and range from legitimate to nonsensical. Consequently on June 5, 2010, NHTSA shut down online access to its complaint database following revelations of redundant, unverifiable entries and improperly secured personal data.

So in conclusion, Toyota didn’t sack the CEO or panic, they learnt from the situation and recalled millions of vehicles at huge expense, focusing on the customer. As ever there are two sides to the story and the facts show a very different picture to the one painted in the majority of the US media.

Finally, I will leave you with Akio Toyoda’s Opening statement in his testimony before the US Congress, February 24, 2010, not something CEO’s often say!

“I am Akio Toyoda of Toyota Motor Corporation. I would first like to state that I love cars as much as anyone and I love Toyota as much as anyone. I take the utmost pleasure in offering vehicles that our customers love and I know that Toyota’s 200,000 team members, dealers and suppliers across America feel the same way. However, in the past few months, our customers have started to feel uncertain about the safety of Toyota’s vehicles and I take full responsibility for that.”