Kaizen the Design, Recall the Part

A Washington Street Journal article on May 31, 2006 reports that once again, Toyota Recalls Some Prius Cars. That’s some 170,000 Prius vehicles. If you include the other models it’s nearly a million cars recalled for parts not strong enough and at risk of cracking under stress.
What’s going on at Toyota? It seems like nearly every month or two there is another wave of recalls. Is Toyota, famed for built-in quality losing its quality edge? Not likely.
The recall numbers are getting bigger because Toyota is doing design kaizen to reduce cost. As they move increasingly towards common designs for parts and the sharing of parts across a wider range of vehicles in an effort to drive down cost, recalls are increasing.
With common parts you have one part serving millions of vehicles instead of a dozen parts each serving hundreds of thousands. When more parts are affected, the recalls numbers will be bigger.
Parts designed for use across a range of vehicles pushes the limits of what the parts can do. Parts designed for one model of vehicle are more robust since it was designed and tested for that particular model. When a single part design is needed to perform for a variety of vehicles, it may not function so well for all models that use it.
Toyota is pursuing aggressive cost reduction through common platform vehicles and common parts. Just like the parts themselves are cracking under stress, the drive to reduce cost by design kaizen is showing cracks under stress. Toyota will weather these recalls as they learn from them and solve these design problems. Long-term it’s a winning strategy.

2 Comments

  1. rd

    June 1, 2006 - 6:18 am

    How you handle recalls is a winning strategy. I would hope not. Not having to recall is a winning strategy. How you handle the recall can prevent further damage but recalls are additional cost to Toyota and the customer and that is not a winning strategy to either.

  2. B Huff

    June 7, 2006 - 10:14 am

    It is Toyota’s job to avoid having a recall in the first place. The consumer will not necessarily care that Toyota was trying to be more efficient and use one part over several platforms. It is Toyota’s responsibility to test that part and verify its performance across all platforms before sending any of them to market. It is a failure of sorts in their system. I am sure they will recognize any deficiency and try to make sure that it does not happen again. It is somewhat troubling that Toyota recall frequency and the magnitude of those recalls is increasing as they have been aggressively increasing their production capacity. When things change there are generally increased risks, the best systems recognize these risks and keep any problems from reaching the consumer. Of course if you do have to have a recall, I suppose the company would then want to do that in the most effective way and try to repair any damage that may have been done with the customer. I have read several articles lately about the Quality problems of the New Avalon and the Scion brand. Hopefully Toyota will remember their own history and continue to improve any deficiencies.