Of Cars and Comics

Articles on automotive quality have generated some of the greatest response from QP readers the past few years. Examples include “Tire Failures, SUV Rollovers Put Quality on Trial” (December 2000) and “Why Quality Gets an ‘F’” (October 2001), both about the Bridgestone/Firestone tire failures and Ford Explorer rollovers. Another article that inspired readers was “Roadblocks to Quality” (February 2003), on why the automotive industry often doesn’t implement its own state-of-the-art quality processes.

(If you missed these articles or want to reread them, you can access them online in the QP back issues archive, which goes back through 1995. It’s available to ASQ members at www.asq.org/pub/qualityprogress/back.html.)

I attribute the intense response to these articles to several factors:

  • A large number of readers work in the automotive industry.
  • With motor vehicles so ubiquitous, nearly everyone is affected by automotive quality—which has been steadily declining, as evidenced by seemingly never-ending recalls.
  • People who care about quality—all of you—are troubled by this decline and want to see it reversed.

What’s scary is that while the Big Three U.S. automakers have taken the biggest hit in quality and customer satisfaction, the troubles are spreading to other manufacturers previously heralded for their quality. For example, you can now read about recalls from the likes of BMW and Honda.

You can also read about Ford’s still dealing with legal issues from the Explorer rollovers and continuing quality problems. In “Back to the Future at Ford” (p. 50), Larry Smith, recently retired from the automaker after 27 years in quality management there, offers a warts and all look at the company’s quality journey over the past three decades. It’s not always a pleasant trip.

The good news, Smith writes, is that Ford is starting to turn around its quality decline by going back to the basics—at least the 1980’s basics according to W. Edwards Deming, augmented by programs such as lean and Six Sigma. Smith believes the lessons Ford is learning are applicable not only to the entire U.S. automotive industry but also to most other industries.

Is he right? Can organizations and industries learn from the past, rather than be condemned to repeat mistakes (to paraphrase George Santayana)?

Let’s hope so. In celebration of the fifth anniversary of the Mr. Pareto Head cartoon, we’re republishing the first one (p. 12). This time it’s in color and has a cleaner style—creator Mike Crossen has constantly pushed for continual improvement—but the message is as relevant today as it was five years ago.

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