TPS Benchmarking

Can I Get an A3 Report with those 2.38 Million Recalls?

By Jon Miller Published on August 24th, 2006

Toyota has made public apologies this year for both the number of recalls and goofs handling them. A Wall Street Journal article today titled Toyota May Delay New Models To Address Rising Quality Issues speculates that Toyota will slow down their new vehicle launches or extend their product development time in an effor to get a handle on this problem. It sounds like they’re taking a recent page from the playbook of Bill Gates at Microsoft: don’t release the product yet if it’s full of bugs.
The article gives various excuses or surface level causes for the surge in recalls by Toyota in the last year:
1. Pressure to launch new vehicles faster
2. Relying too much on computer-aided design tools
3. It’s Delphi’s fault because they designed the part
4. Making fewer prototypes as part of the NPD process
5. Using the same components in a wider range of vehicles
Rather than excuses or a public apology (which goes a long way in Japanese culture but doesn’t always do a lot in the way of root cause countermeasure) I would like to ask the Toyota brass “Can I get an A3 report with those 2.38 million recalls?” We own a Sienna and it’s been back a couple of times for a “service campaign” or non-urgent recall. If it were a Lexus, they might come to me with the part and swap it without wasting my time driving to a local Toyota dealer. It’s not, so the least they could to is to send me a copy of the A3 report on this issue.
A few times when I’ve experienced flagrantly bad service from hotels, airlines, etc. I’ve received apology letters from the CEO, lovingly computer-generated, machine sorted and mailed to my door like so much junk mail. Rather than platitudes and apologies, an A3 report on what they are doing to make sure they learn from this and make sure it never happens again would make me feel a lot better about continuing to be their customer.
The average Toyota driver who gets an A3 report with their recall will not know what it is. So Toyota can use this as a marketing opportunity to create a cartoon or graphic explaining why they screwed up, what they’re doing about it, and thanking the customer for their continued support. That would be applying Lean thinking to marketing.
The article quotes LEI’s Dr. James Womack as saying:
Toyota’s recalls have involved relatively minor issues and nearly all have been voluntary actions by the company, not the kind in which consumer complaints prod the government into action.
Dr. Womack is sounding like a bit of an apologist for Toyota here. This may be a sign of how jaded we are after decades of bad vehicle quality in the U.S., if we’re willing to excuse a spike in “relatively minor issues”, even though each one of them wastes my time. Hardly a Lean solution.

  1. Mark Graban

    August 25, 2006 - 12:54 pm

    That certainly would be a great example for Toyota to set, for the Big 3, and other manufacturers (like Sony)… giving public and open examples of problem solving.

  2. Vic Srambikal

    August 28, 2006 - 7:54 am

    Dr. Liker is a self confessed fan of Toyota; after years of research I am too; but it is time to get practical. The Auto giant is either getting complacent or is it the law of diminishing returns? Lean pundits have for long said that to get lean / leaner one must face stringest competition or extinction from the market. Toyota as we know is only getting a little heat from Hyundai – where is the need or necessity ?
    My question : Toyota likes the Southern States for assembly plants fearing Unionization in the technically competent Northern States- could this be one reason?
    -Over the past few years inventory turns too have gone down at Toyota.

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