What Happens When Toyota Fails to Adopt the Toyota Way?

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

For decades, Toyota has been synonymous with quality. The Toyota Way is required reading is some corporations. And there is much to learn from their approach to building cars and trucks. They do know how to build things.

When word started to come in about problems with their cars, they seemed to have forgotten their own way. If a problem had been spotted on an assembly line, a worker could have stopped that line until they could figure out what went wrong – and fix it. But, once the car was out on the highway, there didn’t seem to be a similar switch that would allow an employee to signal a problem.

When the public’s trust goes, it can go fast. And accusations that Toyota was slow to respond just compounds the mistrust.  Think about it, if you were about to buy a car for a son or daughter, would you seriously consider Toyota today? You’d probably check out Honda, maybe GM or Ford, or even Hyundai (a company that went from a joke to the maker of high-quality cars.)

It’s too soon to tell why the problem was allowed to persist at Toyota. In some companies, it’s a cover-up. In others, the executives believe their own PR. The syllogism might go: We are Toyota, we are synonymous with quality; therefore, we couldn’t be having these problems.

Here are some things Toyota should do to try to rebuild consumer confidence in their company.

1.  Fix the problems fast. And it looks like they are making a strong effort to do just that.

2.  Encourage independent testing groups to put the “fixed” cars through their paces. It won’t be enough for the company to say that they’ve fixed the problems and “now you can safely drive our cars again.” People need to hear this from sources they trust.

3.  Find out what consumers are saying. As the problems are corrected and independent groups attest to the safety of these vehicles, pay attention to blogs and chat rooms. Convene focus groups. This information, perhaps more than anything else, will tell you what you need to do next to rebuild confidence. . . But, there is a downside. If you Toyota executives still believe these problems are simply “customer satisfaction” issues like you did when gas pedals stuck on cars in Europe awhile back, you will misread the data and miss important information about what you must do to regain the public’s trust.

I do wish you well.