Monday, August 28, 2006

Toyota makes mistakes?!

Seems like you hear about a recall from General Motors or Ford every month or so, but you rarely hear about any of the Asian auto makers' recalls, no mater how serious.

So for fairness and accuracy, the Wall Street Journal reports (subscription required, and link will only last 90 days) that last year in the U.S. Toyota recalled 2.38 million vehicles, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That's more than the 2.26 million it sold here.

These aren't exactly minor recalls for a turn signal switch or something either. According to the Wall Street Journal, "This year, the company has recalled 628,000 vehicles in the U.S., and people familiar with the matter say it may soon recall an additional half-million vehicles. The latest recall would affect the current generation of the Sienna minivan, because of concern that poorly designed locking devices for rear seats may fail to securely anchor them to the vehicle floor."

Toyota's sales figures and capital outlay for new developents have been on a steep rise since the mid-nineties, but their fast growth may have caught up with them. Like Chrysler, Toyota now relies nearly exclusively on computer aided design and engineering to get its products to market in about half the time as doing it by hand. But as anyone who uses computers more than occasionally knows, computers make mistakes. Things slip through the cracks.

Things like this gem: "In Japan this year, for instance, Toyota discovered it had made the rear axle of one sport-utility vehicle with the material used for another SUV. Designs for the two rear axles are almost identical, but the metal materials used to produce them are different enough that mixing the parts up caused concern over the strength of the axle. A Toyota spokesman said there was a question of the strength of the axle but declined to elaborate." Oops.

But since these aren't American companies, they don't have to live up to American standards. The Journal quotes one senior engineer as saying that, ""We used to do quiet recalls called 'service campaigns' to deal with many defects, but we're not going to hide anything any more." Probably a good choise, considering that a few short years ago, Mitsubishi was nearly driven out of business by the after effects of the way it handled recalls in the wake of a painful scandal involving an alleged coverup of vehicle defects.

And for your reading pleasure, here's a news brief carried in the WSJ and another link to the original story cited here.

Toyota May Slow Output To Address Quality Issues

August 25, 2006

Toyota is wheeling its somewhat battered image into the equivalent of an auto-body shop to bang out some dents created by a surge of recalls and quality problems. The world's No. 2 producer of automobiles is considering delaying the introduction of some new models by as much as half a year in order to stem the problem.

The fast pace of new-model launches the company has undertaken has given rise to what a senior Toyota engineer calls "bonehead" mistakes that the old Toyota wouldn't have made. Last year in the U.S., Toyota recalled more vehicles than it sold, and recalls also are on the rise in Japan, where police and prosecutors are investigating possible professional negligence.

Analysts say the recent rise in recalls won't necessarily cause consumers to avoid Toyota cars, but it has been highly embarrassing for Toyota management and, with its reliability being called into question, the situation may set back efforts by the Japanese company to overtake General Motors as the world's No. 1 automobile producer.

Read Norihiko Shirouzu's report on Toyota:

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