The recall of 2.3 million Toyota vehicles last week to correct an unintended acceleration caused by a sticky accelerator pedal is another blow to the company's nearly unblemished reputation. Only a few months ago, Toyota recalled 4.3 million vehicles for similar concerns, blaming floor mats lodged under the accelerator pedal as the root of the problem. In typical fashion of humility and responsibility, Toyota president Akio Toyoda apologized to customers and halted the sales an
According to Automotive News, a Toyota spokesman confirmed rumors that the problem is caused by premature wear on the accelerator pedal's return mechanism that can stick or cause sluggish return when released. The company that manufactures the pedal mechanism, CTS of Elkhart Ind., issued a press release on January 29 claiming that it did not make the accelerator pedals in many of the affected vehicles, and that it is not of aware of any accidents and injuries caused by pedal mechanisms it manufactured. And there are unconfirmed rumors that the cause for the unintended acceleration was related to software.
CTS' other customers include Honda, Nissan and Ford. On January 28, Ford said it was suspending production of the Ford Transit sold in China, although, according to company, no incidents have been reported in China or with the Transit model.
It appears that Toyota was aware of the problem as early as 2003. Since 2004, The National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA) commenced at least 5 investigations, and closed these investigations without finding a problem. Toyota's own investigation, involving several models and different suspected root causes, did not lead to a decisive remedial action.
So history repeats itself. Between the highly publicized incidents of unintended acceleration of the Audi 5000 in 1986, to the fatalities related to Ford Explorers fitted with Firestone tires, to today's Toyota's massive recall, millions of cars were recalled for safety reasons, sometomes only after public outcry and government intervention.
The call for better reporting and early warning systems isn't news. In the fall of 2000, President Clinton signed the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation (TREAD), designed to provide consistent reporting of tire-related safety issues and provide an early warning system for OEMs and tire manufacturers. The TREAD act was enacted in response to fatalities related to Ford Explorers fitted with Firestone tires, but the initiaive was never expanded to address other automibile related safety concerns.
Another highly publicized effort was launched by the Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG) in 2005. However, OEMs participating in the Early Warning Standards initiative were unenthusiastic to share key data with their competitors and the public, and the reduced-scope version of the project appears to have lost steam.
Despite the negative publicity of massive recalls and those initiatives, automakers are still too slow to recognize and respond to quality and safety problems and are too quick to shift the blame onto their suppliers, who, without decisive evidence, may be compelled to deny or assume the blame for quality issues they are not responsible for.
Since as early as 2005, Manufacturing Insights has argued for the need for improved visibility and analysis of fielded products. Product companies must leverage all available sources to glean information about their products lifecycle, especially once a product has been placed in service. Warranty returns, field repairs, customer complaints, and similar information must be used to detect quality and safety issues and to improve current and future product design, manufacturing, and channel operations.
The fundamental challenge brand owners face is how to conduct effective analytics and decision-making across design, repair and warranty activities that are scattered between dealers, suppliers and OEMs. We see OEMs and suppliers alike grappling with:
- Disconnected information systems
- Inconsistent information repositories and taxonomies of structured and unstructured data
- Strained OEM-supplier relationships and fragmented organizational decision-making processes
The ecosystem of the automotive industry is not going to get any simpler. Technological complexity, including new technologies pertaining to hybrid, electric and fuel cells, and the massive proliferation of electronics and software will continue to escalate. New manufactures and brand owners will attempt to enter the marketplace, bringing with them much needed innovation, but will lack experience in managing complex supply chains and global manufacturing operations.
Some of the required changes are significant and will take time and effort to implement, especially those requiring process changes. In any case, the automotive industry cannot afford to wait and must invest in technologies and systems to deal effectively with early warning signs. Software providers such as SAS and Teradata have shown that, given the right data, their tools can detect adverse quality patterns in complex data sets that provide meaningful analytics and insights that would help OEMs react swiftly.
Longer term, the automotive industry must invest in means to reduce the likelihood of performance quality and safety issues, and when they do occur, facilitate faster resolution. to The industry should achieve:
- Consistent product taxonomy and data collection methods
- Advanced analytics to identify patterns that should be monitored
- Design and manufacturing information and traceability data that can be shared with suppliers for effective root cause analysis
- Accurate manufacturing history to facilitate accurate recalls
Ideally, these insights should be communicated between OEMs and suppliers, giving suppliers a much needed broader and consistent view of their parts installed in multiple vehicles, but this may be asking for too much too soon…