Toyota: Out of Control: Business story

With a worldwide recall of some 8 million cars and 51 deaths that U.S. regulators say have been caused by mechanical failures in its cars, Toyota Motor Corporation faces a corporate crisis of epic proportions.58 What happened at the car company that had finally achieved the title of world’s largest car maker? (It overtook General Motors in 2008.) What factors contributed to the mess it now found itself in?

At the core of Toyota’s manufacturing prowess is the Toyota Production System (TPS), which has long been touted and revered as a model of corporate efficiency and quality. Four management principles (the 4P model) were at the core of TPS and guided employees: problem-solving, people and partners, process, and philosophy.

The idea behind these principles was that “Good Thinking Means Good Product.” Taiichi Ohno, a long-time Toyota executive, is widely credited as the innovative genius behind TPS. During the 1950s, Ohno, along with a small core of other Toyota executives, developed several principles of car-making efficiency that became what is now known as lean manufacturing and just-in-time inventory management.

“Ohno’s ideas not only changed the auto industry, they changed late-twentieth-century manufacturing.” At the very core of these concepts were attention to detail and a “noble frugality.” However, over the years, it appears that Toyota’s executives slowly lost the “purity” of that approach as the once-strong commitment to quality embedded in Toyota’s corporate culture became lost in its aggressive moves to grow market share and achieve productivity gains.

From about 1995 to 2009, Toyota embarked on the “most aggressive overseas expansions in automotive history” and at the same time had a laser-like unparalleled focus on cutting costs. Four major cost-cutting and expansion initiatives severely strained organizational processes and employees. One initiative was localized manufacturing.

Starting in the late 1990s, Toyota established manufacturing hubs in Asia, North America, and Europe. Such an approach meant relying more on local suppliers and design teams to tailor cars to local tastes.

Another initiative was called Construction of Cost Competitiveness for the 21st Century, or CCC21. It was a massive cost reduction program. Through an ongoing process of redesigning parts and working with suppliers, more than $10 billion of savings were achieved. The Value Innovation initiative was a more ambitious version of CCC21.

Under this program, more savings were achieved by making the entire development process cheaper and by further cutting parts and production costs. And finally, the Global 15 initiative was a master global plan for attaining a 15 percent share of the global car market by 2010. As of mid-2010, Toyota had an 11.7 percent share of the worldwide car market.

However, this “combination of high-speed global growth and ambitious cost cuts led to the quality lapses that tarnished the once-mighty brand.” Toyota’s president, Akio Toyoda apologized for the company’s actions and said, “We pursued growth over the speed at which we were able to develop our people and our organization. I regret that this has resulted in the safety issues described in the recalls we face today, and I am deeply sorry for any accidents that Toyota drivers have experienced.”

So what is Toyota doing to remedy its problems? In addition to the massive recall, the company’s president says that it is setting up a system to respond more quickly to complaints. In fact, the automaker has promised to give regional executives a bigger role in issuing recalls based on local consumer complaints, although Mr. Toyoda says that the final decisions regarding recalls will continue to be made in Japan.

The company is also holding twice-yearly global quality meetings and more frequent regional quality meetings. And finally, the company is re-committing itself to better training employees in quality control.