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Is there a “Toyota Way” ?

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So what is the Toyota way? Quite honestly, I would have been very sympathetic to Toyota’s situation and taken a view that the pressure got to them but judging from the magnitude of the recall,  recent reports in the press and Akio Toyoda’s hollow testimony in front of the US Congress, it is clear that greed got the better of the folks running Toyota.

I have never owned a Toyota but must admit that the FJ Cruiser did catch my passing fancy.

However, I do know there are millions of loyal Toyota owners whose trust in Toyota has been breached.

A search on amazon.com reveals over two dozen books written on Toyota; all highlighting its place in the uppermost echelons of quality, engineering, manufacturing and HR policies.  There are cases/coursework specific to Toyota taught at leading business schools across the world. Experts have been quick to comment about the fall from grace, some standing by what they have authored earlier and brushing this off as a mere blemish.  So how does this all change?  Will books be put out of circulation?; reprinting halted? What will happen to Toyota’s number 1 spot amongst global auto manufacturers – it certainly did not see its first birthday!  With 10M recalls, numerous class action lawsuits, it seems that the problems have just begun for Toyota. I bet you the business schools will add another chapter to the numerous Toyota cases or better yet create (may have already created) a case on brand damage and offer expert advice on how to rebuild/repair a tarnished super brand! Someone profits!

While Toyota is having the worst possible time in its history, Ford declares a profit showing signs of revival amidst an array of new models which are surprising pleasing to the eye.  Ford Taurus, once a top rated car, fell prey to a disastrous redesign in 2000, seems have reincarnated in a superbly updated form.  And there are other cars in the Ford lineup that are doing well too.

I am sure over the coming months and years, investigations will reveal more facts – was it the carpet? the onboard electronics? negligence? faulty raw material?  Toyota has a tough task ahead to rebuild consumer confidence.  In addition to the largest ever recall, to make matters worse, there are also allegations of Toyota being in bed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).  Mr. Obama has another problem to take care of.

Mr. Toyoda, it just cannot be a simple confusion of priorities – lives have been lost, many put at danger, possibly wrong convictions and jail terms have been dealt.  Good luck to you!

About convictions, one Mr. Lee was driving his 1996 Toyota Camry with his family (including his pregnant wife) when he hit two cars at 90mph.  The prosecutors accused Mr. Lee of having his foot on the gas while approaching the two cars and he was sentenced to 8 years in prison.  If this conviction gets overturned, Mr. Lee will be a happy man but the real question to be asked is “How long have these problems gone unnoticed?”  Good luck to you too Mr. Lee!



  1. And just today, Honda announced a recall of almost half a mil vehicles for faulty braking… maybe beyond a certain point companies tend to get careless to pursue growth at any cost. Even if the Mr. Lee you mention is acquitted, however can anybody make him whole for years lost in wrongful imprisonment ??

    Even the once mighty Roman empire spiraled into a downfall… the “mighty” of all times need to learn from history, else as Santayana said “those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.

  2. Jai Mrug says:

    Toyota’s case amply illustrates what complacency can do to an organization that thought to be the paragon of Leagile (Lean and agile) Supply Chain. The devil is always in the details – the large number of recalls are due to a faulty technical design that caused uncalled for acceleration. Now that is not forgiven for a community that prides itself on being protagonists of Operational concepts such as the House of Quality, 5S, Kaizen and above all Lean Manufacturing.

    Owen Berkely Hill, a dear friend of mine, and a devotee of lean manufacturing often mentioned of a lean ‘taliban’ which resisted even a single extra thread on a bolt if the design did not ask for it or indirectly if the customer did not pay for it. Could be that some lean ‘taliban’ took over a design and yes for the first time lean got the better of engineering !!. But yes brands cannot be done away overnight, they do come back, much the way taurus has been through tumultous journies. I guess its still too early to write an obituary .But lean will be questioned, and might have to take the backseat for a while. ‘Higher quality at lower costs’ will not be hear for some time to come.

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