Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Will Toyota learn the safety lessons from its recall?

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Toyota’ lamentable failures to recall cars earlier and deal with quality issues have led to deaths and injuries costing it billions of dollars to correct the individual parts and settle the lawsuits. Perhaps customers will quickly allow the stain on its reputation to fade quickly but there is no doubt that Toyota’s inability to ruthlessly identify a problem and move quickly to rectify it will have a lasting impact. Certainly many comments on Toyota’s website are from diehard fans.

With perhaps some nine million cars facing recall, Toyota technicians are in a race against time to put them through the recall changes. With over 1,000 technicians in the UK trained they are claiming that they can repair 6,000 cars a day. Of course, many consumers will not take their cars in but the scale of the problem will mean that the estimate costs may increase over time, especially if further problems are identified.
Even with the highest quality assurance and control systems in places there will always be a tiny number of failures; whether it be mechanical failures or human errors in manufacturer. Even with 100% robotic assemblies there is still a small risk of error creeping in through human intervention. Businesses need to zealously pursue perfection in products and services but must have contingency plans for such failures. Toyota’s plans were exposed as a horrible mess.

Whilst the Toyota newsroom mentions a recall for accelerator problems on 26th September 2007 on some models some commentators have reported that issues were reported back in 2002. If that proves correct then the accusations that senior representatives of Toyota have either been utterly incompetent or have engaged in a cover up knowing that there was a pattern developing to the reported failures. For those that have died or been injured that is unforgiveable either way.

The environmental, vehicular darling of Hollywood stars, the Prius has now been recalled denting sales, but with no out and out alternative Toyota may be able to get the model back on track quickly. http://www.toyota.co.uk/bv/reskin/_images/cars/shim.gif
The Japanese press seem to treat the recall in a different way to the US and European press. Perhaps it is the ferocious tabloid culture which latches on to an issue and makes it viral within minutes in the US/Europe, which means that manufacturers are more sensitive to press relations and rapidly demonstrating action? Perhaps the Japanese press are too laid back in accepting a corporate giants word and failing to interrogate and challenge what they are told?

It is one thing when problems develop in a car that are annoying; say the windscreen wipers move too quickly or the dashboard is not well laid out. But brakes, accelerator? That is so fundamental to a car’s safety that there cannot be the merest smidgeon of an excuse.

However, with all of these problems it has to put right all the faults in all the models and launch a media offensive to persuade different markets that these simple problems have been overcome and will not happen again. The general consumer trust is gone in Toyota and will not return easily unless it ratchets up repeated examples of how it has changed its approach to safety design. Perhaps by selling new innovative safety features on future models it can reclaim its reputation and take this horror show and create a new image? Perhaps following the eco car’ it will develop the ultimate ‘safe car’?

I think I will continue to stick with my Volvo V70. Works very well, in all this snow and ice – I think.

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