Yesterday Toyota announced that it is recalling 110,000 Tundra trucks built in 2000-2003 due to rust on the frames that is causing the spare tire to break off. Toyota is blaming a supplier, Dana Corporation, manufacturer of the cross member that holds the tire to the bottom of the truck, for the problem, and Dana is cooperating in the investigation. This comes on the heels of a 3.8 million-car recall of Toyota and Lexus cars due to an alleged floor mat problem that is supposed to be causing unexplained acceleration. Of course, Toyota immediately suspected the floor mat supplier. The actual cause of unexplained acceleration is still not definitively attributable to the floor mats. By the way, as an owner of one of the cars in question, a Toyota Prius, I find it hard to believe that the floor mats are causing any problems. On my car, there is a huge clearance between the floor mat and the gas pedal. No way could the floor mat be causing a problem on my car. I personally believe that there is some other root cause and hope that Toyota can get to the bottom of this one.
These are dark days for the exemplar of quality and the acclaimed Toyota Production System. Its image is beginning to rust a bit, just like those cross members. In each case, the company suspected a supplier problem. The supplier is typically the whipping boy in automotive recalls, as big automakers do not actually make most of the parts that go into a car. But suppliers build to customer specification. It is the customer’s responsibility to ensure the accuracy and robustness of its specs and the supplier’s responsibility to build to these specs. If the specs are a problem, a good supplier should alert the customer and the customer should be open to listening to the supplier’s concerns. All the more reason to revisit and tune up the practices of supplier relationship management, supplier qualification and supplier evaluation, collaborative product design, and quality control processes. In theory, Toyota practically invented the concept of lean suppliers, the lean supply chain and supplier development. In practice, something has been going awry.
To paraphrase the Bible, “Toyota, heal thyself.” Toyota has the tools and the know-how to improve its quality and avoid such quality and supplier glitches and potentially dangerous product failures. They had better reaffirm their commitment to quality and strengthen their resolve to fix underlying problems or suffer a decline like some of their American automaker brethren.