By on March 11, 2010

The House Oversight Committee has obtained a 2006 memo from the “All Toyota Labor Union” (ATU) which alleges quality declines due to “a fall in the number of experienced staff in favor of contract workers, longer working hours and an aggressive pursuit of cost cuts” according to Automotive News [sub]. The letter was originally addressed to then-Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe, and was written during a Japanese criminal investigation of Toyota, in which the automaker was eventually cleared of all charges. In the letter, the 20-member ATU (curiously, only two members of the union work for Toyota Motor Company proper) demanded

a seven-point action plan from management including an explanation of the criminal probe, a review of the length of vehicle development period and a review of cost reduction methodologies

Toyota acknowledges receiving the letter in 2006, and says its response was “to quickly develop a program for the reduction of total working hours, to 1,800 hours a year, and improve the working environment.” Other concerns raised by the ATU did not fall under the purview of labor concerns, according to Toyota. What the House Oversight Committee wants with the memo isn’t immediately clear, as there is no shortage of evidence that Toyota has cut costs and quality steadily since the 1990s. Though the memo might help paint a picture of Toyota as secretive and under-responsive to labor and quality criticisms, it certainly won’t shed any light on the causes of unintended acceleration in Toyota cars.

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5 Comments on “Toyota Union Raised Safety Concerns In 2006...”

  • avatar

    As Mr. Lang’s article pointed out, Toyota started decontenting cars and cheapening materials with the 1997 Camry. But it is important not to assume that this is the same as reducing the cars’ reliability. Decontenting can be part of a conscious, thorough process to cut costs. Reliability problems occur when the product development process is not sufficiently thorough.

    Much of this discussion is inspired by the UA crisis. A problem that affects a very small percentage of cars, and that hasn’t been replicated in any of them as far as I can tell, is not a sign of a general breakdown in quality.

    Toyotas continue to do well in TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey. If they do take a turn for the worse, with our prompt quarterly updates we’ll be the first to report it.

  • avatar

    Such a memo could have been written at any auto maker, at any time over the last 50 years. They have all had labor-managment issues with the same concerns. It’s easy to play the safety card to accentuate your gripe.

  • avatar

    Based on the almost daily reports and revelations of Toyota’s corporate dishonesty and Detroitesque cover ups….maybe it is time to start a ‘Toyota Death Watch’ series…..

  • avatar
    Jack Denver

    That’s it, it’s officially a witch hunt now. Haven’t the House Committee staff members ever heard the phrase “consider the source”? Obviously ATU had no sincere concern about safety – this was just a pretext for protecting member’s jobs. They might as well let the trial lawyers run the hearings. No, wait, they’ve done that already.

    Now just because the union was griping about quality and decontenting to press its real concerns doesn’t mean that there weren’t issues on this front, but to have any credibility, those issues would have to be presented by someone with a less obvious agenda.

    And decontenting is one thing and SUA is another. So far, there’s no evidence that SUA was caused by decontenting. The move to drive by wire was driven by emissions and other concerns – an old fashioned pedal and cable linkage was probably cheaper to build than a sensor type pedal on the input end and a servo motor on the throttle side.

    GoHuskers – there are daily reports because someone is intentionally metering out the stories on a daily basis to “hold Toyota’s feet to the fire”. You are being manipulated by a sophisticated PR campaign. Don’t take these stories at face value.

  • avatar

    “You are being manipulated by a sophisticated PR campaign. Don’t take these stories at face value.” Seems like Toyota has been doing it for years.

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