Toyota: Oh, What A [Sinking] Feeling?

While no one is going to know the root cause of the manifold accelerator problems that Toyota vehicles apparently have, given the lean methodology of the “Five Whys”—wherein you keep asking why like an impetuous five-year-old until you get the answer—and Taachi Ohno’s legendary insistence for getting to the bottom of things, even if it means standing at a machine tool for hours on end, there will be an answer or answers.

While no one is going to know the root cause of the manifold accelerator problems that Toyota vehicles apparently have, given the lean methodology of the “Five Whys”—wherein you keep asking why like an impetuous five-year-old until you get the answer—and Taachi Ohno’s legendary insistence for getting to the bottom of things, even if it means standing at a machine tool for hours on end, there will be an answer or answers.

And when it is discovered, it won’t be a matter of blame, but, rather, a matter of making a permanent fix, not a sticking-plaster solution or a work-around.

At least that’s if the Toyota executives hew to the principles that made the company as successful as it has been.

This brings to mind some comments—perceived as controversial—made by Akio Toyoda last June, shortly after he’d been named president of Toyota Motor Corporation. Yes, he’s the grandson of Kiichiro Toyoda, founder of the company. Akio Toyoda reviewed the history of the company, then went on to say the following, which I am quoting at some length: A

‘Toyota has overcome many challenges during its seven decades of business. What has made this possible is the way we make our cars under our “customer first” and “genchi genbutsu” principles. Furthermore, all Toyota companies around the world have risen to the challenge each time to engage in technological innovation and increased productivity.
‘During the last 10 years, Toyota has seen a big increase in international sales and production. Since 2003, the pace of expansion has exceeded half a million vehicles a year. Since Toyota’s mission is to contribute to society through the manufacture of automobiles, I do not think we were wrong to expand our business in an attempt to meet the needs of customers around the world. But we may have stretched more than we should have, and that made us unable to capitalize on Toyota's traditional strengths.
‘With this in mind, the way forward is clear.
‘As a company, we must reaffirm and all share the mission of contributing to society through the manufacture of automobiles. And, we must implement the principles Toyota has held to firmly through times of trouble.
‘Yes, the going will still be tough for the next few years, but if all Toyota companies around the world come together and reaffirm Toyota’s mission, Toyota WILL bounce back. My immediate goal is to work from this low point in our business upward so we can return to profitability as soon as possible.
‘To do that, I first want to build an unwavering commitment throughout the company to “strive to make better cars”—in other words, I want Toyota to have a “product-focused management.”
‘Rather than asking, “How many cars will we sell?” or, “How much money will we make by selling these cars?” we need to ask ourselves, “What kind of cars will make people happy?” as well as, “What pricing will attract them in each region?” Then we must make those cars.’

If nothing else, note the sentence: “But we may have stretched more than we should have, and that made us unable to capitalize on Toyota’s traditional strengths.” Arguably, those strengths included an unwavering commitment to quality, and if nothing else, this accelerator pedal, floor mat, electronic control unit, whatever problem is an example of the negative consequences of stretching.

Until they refocus with the optics of a high-power laser, there isn’t going to be a whole lot of happiness for customers, owners, dealers, suppliers, or Toyota employees at all levels.