Where to Start

Abstract:Five quality experts analyze issues involved in Toyota’s massive recall and offer advice on how to avoid similar problems. Recommendations include the need for Toyota to regain customer loyalty by focusing on feedback programs, maintaining product quality through specific training in product safety and product liability prevention, the fostering of organization social responsibility, and the importance of risk identification and mitigation. Finally, the impact the current situation may have on the future of quality and the lean process is …

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Toyota Co. lost its credibility in the car market when it withdrew million of cars with malfunctioning pedal brakes and is jeopardizing the lives of many by still-malfunctioning brakes. Toyota should hire new quality experts who will solve their mechanical problems. Also, their managers should redeem themselves from the sin of greed by gaining $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ and causing loss of life.
--Shadi Shaaban, 08-17-2010


The recent Toyota recalls certainly provide fertile ground for articles for this magazine, but I think the rush to publish something in April's issue has been at the expense of quality. I accept that the general issue can be used as a theme for related articles such as "Brand Loyalty," but the articles that attempted to offer solutions without knowing the root causes have no place in a major journal servicing the quality profession.

In "Under Scrutiny," Mark Paradies discusses the concept of confirmation bias, citing an earlier QP article as an example. Unfortunately "TPS Troubles" provided even more examples of confirmation bias. This article in particular made assumptions of root cause with no supporting facts, and the anonymous quotes lacked credibility to add any weight to the author's opinions. The suggestion that Toyota needs to go back to basics is a huge overreaction in my opinion, with there being little evidence to support this conclusion, either in the article or in the limited information coming out of Toyota itself. Indeed, Toyota claims to be making "a significant global effort to strengthen our quality assurance operations and set a new, higher standard for vehicle safety and reliability," which sounds like they are building upon their foundations rather than totally rebuilding.

Interestingly, the April data for U.S. car sales shows Toyota's market share to have rebounded to the same level it was at a year ago, reinforcing my view that the haste to publish Toyota-based articles was ill conceived. So come on QP, please wait until there is more data and facts available, and give us the Toyota articles we deserve.

--David Woodward, 05-04-2010


The history of unintended acceleration stems back to the late 1980's. ALL automobile companies have experienced this defect. I believe the true defect is Toyota's ability to find loopholes in our government and safety regulation system. The rapid growth and goal set forth to pass GM also resulted in clouded judgment to say the least. The goal changed from safety, quality, cost. Working in quality for many years producing/testing yachts, I would ask our assembly lines one question: Would you put your family on this yacht 100 miles off-shore? If the answer was no, we knew we had to review our testing/quality requirements. Toyota had data and chose to ignore it. Centralizing the decision process in Japan was also an issue. This is too far from the actual events, and in Japan they lack a Consumers Union like the United States. They tend to support corporate initiatives. It just so happens Toyota got caught. I believe quality is EVERY company's responsibility, and when lives are at stake, NOTHING should supersede safety and quality. Why is it that it takes a disaster to change a process?
--Tom, 04-29-2010


Reliability helps quantify problems. Not just reliability predictions, but observed field reliability estimates, tell the probability of successful function [according to customers] to specified ages [DoA, warranty, PM, useful life] under specified conditions [in the field, driven by customers].

The OEMs have the data prior to warranty expiration, even though service writers hate entering all the data and make understandable mistakes. NHTSA has complaints data, although perhaps a little late and with a lot of data-entry errors and omissions. The automotive aftermarket also has statistically sufficient data to make nonparametric estimates of age-specific field reliability and failure rate functions.
--Larry George, 04-25-2010


The suggestions made by all the experts are stuff you find in traditional management literature. None of them really dug deep into the problem to find the real root causes. It would have been useful to know as to how a quality-oriented company like Toyota could make such a massive goof up. Were design reports on flaws ignored for the sake of pushing the product to the market? Were field test reports swept under the carpet? Or did quality-control staff at Toyota simply not report the problem? It would have been much more interesting.
--Shrikumar, 04-21-2010


I have been following this Toyota story rather aggressively. To date, my summary observation is that good data has been hard to come by. Much of the information that gets to us in the public is no doubt polluting good data, with its many incidents of fraud, grandstanding and finger pointing. Perhaps the best indicator to date is that NASA is getting involved. Why? Because, despite all the statements of known causes and known responsibilities, the true causes and solutions to the problem(s) may not yet be known.
--Gordon MacDowell, 04-14-2010


The authors self-promoted rather than exploring the issue, which would be stated "Why did Toyota abandon what it had in place?" That is, they were doing all the things (and more) the authors suggest, but they resorted to what Taguchi has called "worse than a thief's criminal behavior." In simple terms, he said a thief may steal $10 from you, but society as a whole is still even. In the case of Toyota's design decisions, they attempted to save money or gain revenue but ultimately may have cost lives and certainly many millions more than they may have gained. Let's dig down to the roots to find the cause.
--Harry Moroz, 04-14-2010


IMHO: Unfortunately, none of the experts addressed the root causes of the problem. Hence, they could not suggest a corresponding solution. Mr. Hayes', Mr. Atkinson's and Mr. Smith's notes are too general to be used in practice, and Mr. Goodden's and Mr. Murdock's notes are absolutely right but missing the key point of the problem.

As far as I can see, the root cause of Toyota's problems is the same thing that produced the world economic crisis. It is the system in which the performance of enterprises and their top managers is being determined on the basis of profit gains, plus the new generation of managers who are capable of managing only money flows and are not interested in the long-term health of their companies. We need to change the system and not waste time searching for who's guilty.
--Vladimir Shper, 04-14-2010


It certainly is by no coincidence that Ford is enjoying its place at the top. You could successfully argue that Ford Motor Company's commitment to quality and reliability since the early 1980s has now taken them to another level. Dr. Deming pointed out this path painfully to most 30 years ago with his 14 points. I can still hear him profoundly state that it "takes a generation" for systemic change to take place.

Certainly, Ford and the Big Three have taken their lumps over their inability to be efficient and effective, even going back to MIT and the "Machine that changed the World." This article falls very short on recognizing that there is no substitute for sound quality and reliability engineering principles. I learned early in my career that "nothing is completely useless...it can always be used as a bad example." It would be naive to suggest that Toyota's ills are related only to one "root cause," but Mr. Toyoda even articulated recently that Toyota lost its way by focusing on sales atthe expense of quality. The point to be taken is that it takes a generation to instill quality...and a very short time to lose it.
--Lee Adanti, 04-13-2010


Nearly all of your contributors referred to FMEA, but nobody adequately addressed root cause. The "floor mat" symptom was merely Toyota's attempt to diffuse the media and market backlash from the early product failure reports. Toyota's biggest failure may be that its size and reputation have come with a measure of arrogance that caused them to forget the emphasis on quality and customer satisfaction that got them there in the first place.
--Gerald R. Frank, 04-12-2010


Quite frankly, I started reading this article but was quickly bored. I did like your previous articles where there were no opinions, just reported facts.

In case ASQ has not taken a good look, the "root cause" is simply greed. Toyota's failure to take timely "containment" action resulted in a number of deaths. Some of these, if not all, could have been prevented. It is on this basis that criminal charges, as part of the "corrective action" should be filed.

At this point, we are not talking about quality issues as normally perceived.
--Nicholas Squeglia, 04-12-2010


I have gone through this article very carefully, and first of all I'd like to convey my regards to ASQ for publishing an article that gives some indications about the recent failures that took place at Toyota. It is no doubt that all over the world, the focus is on Toyota and benchmarked Toyota practices, and in such a situation, an incident like this may lead to continue on that direction. However, I feel none of the experts went into detailed analysis of the situation or gave any valuable advice to readers, instead of offering some of the common theories. I feel the article fails to convey the expected message, even though five experts inputs were incorporated.

--Lalith Senaweera, 04-11-2010


This article will bring minimal benefits to industrial companies. Why? Because:

1) It is too general.
2) It did not consider accurate prediction of product's quality, reliability and durability during design and manufacture.
3) How industrial company could predict the above accurately.

--Lev Klyatis, 04-09-2010


I believe that Mr. Murdock's focus on a risk analysis methodology hit the nail right on the head. Mr. Hayes' article on customer feedback is more of a focus on the symptom of a problem and will be a clean-up exercise in the aftermath of finding out what the true root cause is. For example, the first time I was exposed to the currently designed floor mat, I realized immediately it was a superficial attempt (at best) for keeping the floor mat in place. I believe Mr. Atkinson is getting close to a true root cause and that certain positive and persistent check points must be implemented, especially those processes involving the error prone human element. Humans are not perfect and never will be. Our focus should always include that limitation as part of our plan to mitigate risk. Perhaps that is what Mr. Smith is driving at. Personally, I believe that after a death or two occurred, Toyota's top-level managers were well aware of the situation. But in today's world, that's when their legal department took the lead to resolve the issues. That's the way things work in today's world. To a certain extent, it is effective and is the least costly method.
--Dan, 04-09-2010


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