Our Point of View: Recall Is Not a Four-Letter Word

August 10, 2010

by Steve St. Angelo

What’s in a word? When it comes to the word “recall,” the answer can be a lot, given the media scrutiny that has surrounded Toyota in recent months. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that recalls are an integral part of our commitment to standing by our products and being responsive to our customers. Put another way, “recall” is not a four-letter word.
As Toyota’s Chief Quality Officer for North America, my job is to make sure we act quickly and decisively whenever we identify a quality issue, and I have a direct line on quality to our global president, Akio Toyoda. 
Over the long-term, Toyota has built a record of safety, reliability and quality that’s unquestionably strong – and we’ve made significant changes at Toyota in the past several months to make sure we are an even more responsive, safety-focused organization. We’re listening closely to our customers and taking quick, decisive actions to ensure their vehicles are safe. Our strengthened quality assurance team is leaving no stone unturned as it thoroughly examines our entire fleet, including millions of cars and trucks that have performed reliably for more than a decade.  
We’ve put more resources into the field – such as rapid response SMART teams to make on-site inspections – so we can better gather, analyze and respond to customer feedback. And, throughout our operations, we’re re-emphasizing the basics of the Toyota Production System, which involve pulling what’s known as an andon cord to stop the production line whenever you see a problem. We aren’t perfect – everyone makes mistakes – but the important thing is to stop the line and fix it.
That’s what we’re doing with our recalls. If we determine that there’s even the slightest safety concern with our cars on the road, we’re not hesitating to address it – sometimes on the basis of just a handful of complaints. 
Other automakers are also moving more quickly. While there were 492 recalls across the industry in the U.S. during 2009, more than 300 recall campaigns were announced in the first six months of this year. According to a Detroit News report, our industry is on track this year to recall more than 20 million vehicles, the most since 2004.
We’re also proud of the way our dealers have gone above and beyond in servicing vehicles covered by the three major recalls we announced in late 2009 and early 2010. To date, they’ve completed more than four million remedies, including almost 80 percent of the fixes for possible sticking pedals. That’s a remarkable achievement in a relatively short period. 
Obviously, recalls should never be considered business as usual. But there’s another, more common meaning of the word “recall”: and that’s “to remember.” At Toyota, we never want to forget that our goal is to make sure that Toyota drivers are completely confident in the safety and reliability of their vehicles.
Steve St. Angelo
North America Chief Quality Officer
Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America

Displaying comments 1 - 5 of 9:

Val Mondaca said...
Regarding the Highlander Commercial Dear Sirs, Im Very Disappointed to see Toyota advocating such disrespect to parents. What a slap in the face to parents that are working hard to give their kids a great childhood and teach them its not what you have but the kind of person you are. with kids in private school, sports and activities, clothing and medical just to name a few, would probably be why parents are driving an older modal cars. I guess its Priorities... I think we would all like to be driving the next latest and greatest automobile, We have a Toyota in our family. It is an older model but its paid for, and runs great. I thought your goal was to sell something that lasts, that we could keep in the family....I was thinking that it would be passed on to my Son who will be 16 in March, is he going to tell me " I don't want that old car, are you "lame".? He better not! To insinuate Im Lame or and embarrassment to my child for what I drive is just beyond the pale. maybe you should rethink this sales tactic, I don't know many 8 year old kids that have purchased a car lately...the Highlander will NOT be my next choice just because of this ad. I did not find it amusing or compelling at all, the more I saw it the more it drove me to write this note. who thought of this...how Lame!
10/26/10 at 12:00 AM

KK said...
Well said. Completely agree. Toyota's famous continuous improvement is necessary in the handling of information (especially the Headquarters in Japan).
10/18/10 at 12:00 AM

bob said...
It's great to announce safety recalls like the spare tire cable problem you announced for over 600,000 Siennas over 6 months ago...how about announcing a SOLUTION for this problem? Is it that complicated to find a cable that won't corrode? Over 6 months? Get serious...this isn't rocket science. Nobody wants to see spare tires bouncing down the highway at 70 MPH, muchless get hit with one.
10/13/10 at 12:00 AM

Khalid said...
Toyota, you ought to be ashamed of the way you're handling the spare tire recall on Sienna. Your newsroom web site is littered with big words such as leadership, safety experience, and so on and so forth... I always thought that Toyota was unfairly treated by the media, but now I know, for sure, that the media was right, and that I was wrong for siding as well as believing in Toyota. Again, shame on you Toyota!
10/8/10 at 12:00 AM

sixpack said...
It's good that Toyota's trying to improve quality, but by fixating on recalls it kinda takes the media's bait--blowing everything out of proportion. It's like a schoolboy who's been caught in the act and can't stop talking, and thereby seals his guilt. Okay, it's not THAT cut and dry, but I really think Toyota could do more for itself if it fought the media and pushed them to report on all of the developments and findings, from third parties, that help Toyota's side. Like Car and Driver's findings, last spring, that there were no major problems with accelerator pedals, and that Camrys, unlike most other sedans tested, had brakes sufficiently power to bring a car in full throttle to a complete stop. Like the Stanford study that found that every other sedan, when rigged in the manner displayed in that famous television spot--a manner that could hardly happen in real life--also responded with over-acceleration, proving that Toyotas were not at fault. Interestingly, Motor Trend recently said that Toyota's brake override feature is 'unnecessary', implying that Toyota is implementing the system to reassure the public, and that there really isn't a problem to begin with. Point is, Toyota needs to abandon the good-guy role, and go after biased reporting. True, there were some problems, but in most cases, as the government itself determined, it was driver error--at least 80% in fact. When you have so few cases of alleged acceleration actually caused by faulty mechanisms, and when other makes also have accounted for a substantial number of similar incidents, Toyota has to point out--publicly, and repeatedly--that it has been singled out, and that if authorities are serious about safety, they should respond in similar fashion to other companies' defects. Undoubtedly, they have related this privately, but unless the public hears about this, the perception of runaway quality problems will persist. That said, a little good PR would help. And here, I have a specific suggestion. Other companies, like Nissan, point to their ratings on JD Power Quality studies. Fine. But usually they mean initial quality. Toyota, of course, perenially dominates JD Power DEPENDABILITY, which is long-term quality. A Toyota commercial should focus on this, specifically. Because ultimately, consumers want to know the car won't fall apart way down the road--figuratively and literally. RJ Polk says the same thing, but JD Power I think is more recognizable.
10/4/10 at 12:00 AM

D said...
How a company reacts during quality challenges is an important metric / measurement. Replacing vehicles in dealerships before vehicles on the market was a poor answer showing a short sided sales focus.
9/1/10 at 12:00 AM

M. Hernandez said...
Toyota has had to learn a hard lesson of getting back to the basics in terms of facilitating defect information in a quick and precise manner. Nothing annoys me more than when a problem is discovered and little is done about it to correct it immediately. There is a phenomenon in statistics called Simpson's Paradox which simply stated says that while analyzing an event or problem at a macro scale the results clearly point to one common attribute of interest, but the micro scale analysis tells a completely different story. Perhaps Toyota should make use of this concept to cover all of their bases.
8/13/10 at 12:00 AM

XuanThu Pham said...
It's never easy for a business to face challenges such as this. The important thing is that Toyota and its leadership is doing something to make a change and improve. This morning's Tweetup is an example of incorporating contemporary marketing best practices, executive leadership, and crisis management, and customer service to resolve issues and hopefully - be better and more effective starting today. Mr. Akio Toyoda, CEO and grandson of the company's founder apologized on behalf of the company when testifying before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. This was an important first step. I look forward to learning more about the SMART teams and following the story-many of us Toyota customers do. Regards.
8/10/10 at 12:00 AM

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