Thursday, February 16, 2012

Still having doubts about the Toyota Production System’s benefits?

Several years ago Toyota went through one of the worst stages of its history. Just as the world was in the midst of a financial crisis, we all started to hear about runaway Toyotas and brake failures. TPS and Lean Manufacturing came under the microscope like never before, and many, specially the media, opportunists, the U.S. government (trying everything they could to hurt the competition to prop up U.S. automakers), and many started to doubt the benefits of a system previously lauded for delivering exceptional quality.

It was only after several years, millions of vehicle recalls, a humbling apology by Akio Toyoda (in front of a hostile US Congress), and a joint NHTSA / NASA investigation into the issue to really show that TPS was doing what it had to do! After the investigations concluded, the data showed that the majority of the accidents occurred due to drivers not pressing the brakes. 

Of course, while everyone blamed bad accelerators, and even electronics, Toyota did what it did best… it used real world data to perform its root cause analysis. In late 2009, and before the runaway problem really exploded, Toyota was already recalling and fixing the mat interference issue. It realized the danger of the situation and took action. 

(There is no justifying any death or injuries due to poor designs and/or quality… and the mat issue did contribute to these. However, the fact that the Media and Government went to such great extents to damage Toyota’s image – in order to prop up GM and Chrysler – makes me wonder if they perpetuated the problem. If anything, that witch hunt probably forced Toyota to commit resources to a wild goose chase and likely lose focus on the real issue… the floor mats.) 

This year’s JD Power ratings were released and Toyota claimed the top spot in 8 of the segments. It is also interesting to note that these ratings concern 2009 models, the bulk of which went under the microscope due to the ‘runaway’ issue. This not only confirms Toyota’s commitment to quality, but that in the wake of the ‘fiasco’, they continue to do what they do best… learn and continuously improve.

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