What Really Happened
to Toyota? THE LEADING QUESTION Why has Toyota been
recent focus on
the emphasis on
; The quality of competitive products
; Public perceptions
about quality can be
by media reports.
Given the spate of recalls and quality problems, managers
wonder whether Toyota’s difficulties throw its legendary
manufacturing model into question.
BY ROBERT E. COLE
CONSUMERS WERE SURPRISED in October 2009 by the first of a series of highly publicized
recalls of Toyota vehicles in the United States. Citing a potential problem in which poorly placed or incorrect floor mats under the driver’s seat could lead to uncontrolled acceleration in a range of models, Toyota
announced that it was recalling 3. 8 million U.S. vehicles. The recall was triggered by the report of a fiery
crash in California, where the accelerator of a Lexus sedan got stuck, resulting in the driver’s death.
Additional reports of unintended acceleration from sticky gas pedals prompted the
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to pressure Toyota to recall
additional vehicles and models.
To car buyers and students of manufacturing excellence, Toyota was no
ordinary company. It was in a class by itself,
long known, even revered, for its sterling
quality. For manufacturing executives who
have strived for decades to emulate Toyota,
the mere suggestion that it had quality issues was a serious matter, to say the least.
All over the world, executives paused to
wonder if they had been chasing after the
wrong manufacturing model.
Despite Toyota’s long record of building reliable, low-defect vehicles, public
perceptions about quality are often
greatly influenced by reports in the media
and their overall timing. The public view
can be at odds with the objective measures. In the case of Toyota, there were
definitely indications that the quality level
Toyota’s quality problems in the United States
were signaled with a recall in late 2009 for
problems with floor mats, but they didn’t end
there. Since then, more than 20 million cars
have been recalled.
REUTERS PIC TURES
SUMMER 2011 MIT SLOAN MANAGEMENT REVIEW 29