By on February 8, 2010

As the search for clues to what went wrong with Toyota’s much-vaunted quality rolls on, Automotive News [sub] has discovered that Toyota discontinued top-level quality-focused meetings shortly after Akio Toyoda took over early last year. The “Customer First” quality meetings were instituted under Toyoda’s predecessor Katsuake Watanabe as a response to Toyota’s 2005 recalls. A Toyota executive involved with quality decisions at the time tells AN [sub] that the Watanabe-headed committee simply disappeared over time:

We saw that the whole company and each division understood what they need to do in terms of Customer First operation. It became a daily activity rather than a special activity. So they didn’t need an executive to instruct them. Because Customer First is something like a philosophy, Customer First activities themselves are continuing. But we don’t have an official organization like a committee.

Ironically, Toyoda used the term “Customer First” repeatedly in his comments to the Japanese press last week. How he squares that emphasis with the decision to cut an executive-level committee named for that phrase remains very much to be seen. Meanwhile, his motivations for cutting the program couldn’t be more obvious, as the slow-and-safe approach added months to vehicle development time.

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21 Comments on “Toyota Canceled Top-Level Quality Meetings Last Year...”

  • avatar

    Will be interesting to see if the MSM picks up on this story and continues the ongoing castration-by-weed-whacker procedure of Toyota.

    Yet ANOTHER sign that Toyota has taken the torch from GM as the biggest carmaker in the world and set itself ablaze with it.

    • 0 avatar

      “Yet ANOTHER sign that Toyota has taken the torch from GM as the biggest carmaker in the world and set itself ablaze with it.”

      +1 for that comment. True or not, it made me laugh.

  • avatar

    Toyota made a mistake and is now fixing it. I’d still stand by Toyota quality any day of the week and twice on Sunday. And let’s not forget, Ford still has the largest recall in history, more than FOUR years after the latest model was produced (but as many as 12 years) in 2008. Remember those igniting cruise control switches? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

  • avatar

    There goes Toyoda’s ability to coat himself in watanabe supplied teflon as well.

    I wonder how much pressure he (Toyoda) is feeling to step down?

  • avatar

    Toyota has become the new GM. My Martix with the manual transmission failed. $3000. Most likely caused by undersized bearings. Edmund even has a site for Matrix manual transmission failures. There isn’t one for Honda Civic transmission failures. My Matrix has lots of squeaks and rattles. Toyota Quality is a myth.
    Still, I think the media has made this issue bigger than it really is.


  • avatar
    crash sled

    I think you’re mistaken in your analysis, Edward. That article you linked says that under “Customer First”, Toyota chief engineers requested things, and are receiving them:

    >>>>>>The slowdown-and-be-careful program is called Customer First, and has greenlighted requests from engineers for more time, money and personnel to develop vehicles. According to AN, chief engineers requested the following:

    Better original computerized blueprints
    More prototypes
    More quality checkers
    More time
    Bigger budgets<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

    So then, it appears Toyota came up with a plan at the executivve level, and handed it off, and then dissolved the executive committee.

    Classic executive action, in other words, for a truly functional executive group. Were but that the Detroit 3 could have acted in such a fashion, they might not now be in the miserable shape they're in today. THEIR executive committees seem to have been immortal, but haven't done what the business truly requires. Fixed overhead without results. The Big 3 way.

    Doesn't mean that Toyota's plan will work, nor that it it could have or should have headed off the current recall issues, but there's nothing untoward in what they've done at the executive level. You're reaching here.

    • 0 avatar
      Cammy Corrigan

      Mr Crash Sled,

      I think it’s unfair to lump Ford in with GM and Chrysler. Ford are hardly in “miserable shape”. They’ve made huge strides in quality and Alan Mulally has done a good job of bringing people together with a vision of how Ford should work. Ford, I’d say are where Hyundai are now. They have good short term quality but need a few more years of good, repeatable results before they tackle the big boys of Toyota and Honda.

  • avatar

    This could easily be a non-event. I don’t see how a regular meeting of high-level executives necessarily produces anything worthwhile. In fact, from my observations it’s often quite the opposite. So what’s the big deal if they canceled them?

    • 0 avatar

      I would agree with this. High-level meetings like this tend to far less useful than executives agreeing to empower their front-line QA staff. At worst, they’re feel-good exercises that may have had a point, but eventually become a time-wasting example of process over product.

      Getting rid of one more opportunity to waste time in front of a PowerPoint deck isn’t a bad thing.

  • avatar

    I doubt that an executive-level quality meeting would ferret out a subtle issue like stuck gas pedals.

    Toyota is following the “customer first” philosophy in handling this problem. And I’m certain they will continue to do so once they are selling cars again, as in a massive “we’re sorry” effort to win customers back.

    Toyota could probably have delayed this one 6 more months before they were forced to take drastic action.

  • avatar

    Cancelling a “quality meeting” isn’t necessarily a bad sign. It may be a sign that they are moving from empty gestures to actually doing something. Having “quality meetings” in the first place was probably the bad sign. As a Dilbert cartoon pointed out years ago (but with the term “employee empowerment” instead of “quality”): if it’s really a part of your corporate culture, why would you need to have meetings to say it is?

    • 0 avatar

      Of course an executive-level meeting on quality will not identify or solve any technical problems. Executives are not engineers . . . and that’s engineering work.

      A very important function of an executive meeting, however, is to show the organization what it’s priorities should be. Cancelling an executive quality meeting sends a message — “quality is not high priority enough to spend an hour of our valuable time discussing it”. Perhaps an unintended message, but still sent.

    • 0 avatar

      Having “quality meetings” in the first place was probably the bad sign.

      My god, is this ever true.

      I recall the work intake management meetings I used to attend because our division, as a whole, was complaining at 120% utilization was not sustainable and that we were falling behind.

      What we needed was more people. What we got was meetings where managers deflected blame for not getting things done on time because we didn’t have enough staff, and then got subsequently ordered to make it happen anyway. Without additional staff, by the way.

      If management is serious about quality or retention or customer satisfaction or whatever they will spend money, not time, on it. An hour or so a week on “quality meetings” is a make-work project designed to give the impression of “doing something”, rather like a congressional committee.

  • avatar
    crash sled

    Cammy, it is most DECIDELY fair to lump Ford in with GM and Chrysler, as they’ve all historically displayed roughly equivalent levels of incompetency. Ford’s incompetency might even be judged as the WORST of the Big 3… as Ford management ran them into near insolvency in 2006, even before the auto market crashed, while GM and Chrysler survived until that crash.

    However, Ford’s incompetency was well-timed, albeit unintentionally, as they were able to go out into the then healthy financial markets, hock the furniture, and acquire the $23B in credit that’s permitted them to survive the last 4 years of negative cash flow, which GM and Chrysler were unable to do in 2008-09… and thus the genesis of Government Motors.

    The 2006 financial markets FORCED Ford to hire Mullaly, as a condition of those loans. You have to read between the lines to understand this, but it is so. There is NO WAY the Ford family would have acquiesced to this unwashed philistine Kansas hick Mulally waltzing in and reshaping their beloved handiwork, unless they were absolutely FORCED to do so. Nothing Ford is doing comes as a result of anything but actions taken at gunpoint. Left to their own devices, they’d be cooked.

    Similarly, GM has been forced by Washington to accept this unwashed Texas telecom hick (who clearly understands what a balance sheet is supposed to look like) to run things, and …..HORRORS!!!….. neither he nor Mullaly is a “car guy”. The 2 situations are analogous. Fate and timing somewhat differ, but history says they’re the same. Ford management historically has been just as dumb or DUMBER than GM. And Chrysler should have been dead 30 years ago.

    And in reference to your avatar, Jaguar was the biggest mistake Ford ever made, and that’s really saying something. No, Ford deserves no special attention. They’ll be sucking at the government teat, and already are, if you look close.

    • 0 avatar

      “And Chrysler should have been dead 30 years ago.”

      Up until that point, I thought you had good understanding of the domestic automakers. By the way, Chrysler is the only one of the domestics who’s current situation can not be blamed on their past management, since none of the players in the 90’s (Gale, Stallkamp, Lutz, Pauley, Caistang, et. al.) were in control after Daimler and Cerberus raped and neglected them in that order. Chrysler has not been the captain of their own ship for over 12 years. Before that they were the most profitable of the Detroit 3.

  • avatar

    Official: State Farm warned NHTSA on Toyota in ’07
    * State Farm flagged problem after seeing trend
    * Accidents involved models ‘consistent with’ Toyota recall
    * Other insurers reviewing past Toyota claims

    Is now a good time to buy a Prius? Too bad my 2008 Vibe has only 13K on it with no issues.

  • avatar

    Continuous Quality improvement requires continuous attention and nurturing. To have top management drop the meetings just gives people more time to get ready for that other meeting that didn’t get cancelled. Yes, in Japan too. The real question is how many lower level quality meetings died when the top meetings were cancelled. Which means things didn’t get prioritized or approved or funded. Quality doesn’t happen with good intentions all by itself. I think the Crown Prince of Toyota had better watch it.

  • avatar

    Public statements are that 100% of the problems were the two issues with the pedal yet cars in Japan were being flashed.

    Reports are surfacing that , contrary to Toyota claims, the Prius brakes fail for 1-2 seconds very predictably.

    Now come reports that the legislators who are supposed to be overseeing Toyota have been paid huge campaign contributions and other gratuities. Claiming no conflict of interest, they have so far refuse to step down.

    The Southern Toyota dealers, responsible for 20% of U.S. Toyota sales pulled all their ads from ABC, claiming the reporting on Toyota is too much.

    Today’s Seattle Times page A3 was margin-to-margin, top-to-bottom on “The Toyota Issue.”

    Now comes the news reports Toyota cancelled the executive-level Quality meetings.

    This train wreck continues to unfold before our very eyes.

    • 0 avatar

      Other than a group Toyota dealers pulling ads from ABC—which I would do, too, if my ads were going to be running parallel with “investigative reporting— can you substantiate any of those claims, or is this going to be an exercise in Glenn Beck-style “journalism by association”?

      Anyone can say anything was “reported” by “sources”, but I would like to see actual testing and proof.

  • avatar

    WOW….lets hear some G.M./Ford/Chrysler bitching NOW…….
    Hummmmm,kinda quiet out there lately.
    To bad the previous American car hater Editor(I cant remember his name) isn’t around to defend Toyota now.

  • avatar
    crash sled

    =====”Up until that point, I thought you had good understanding of the domestic automakers. By the way, Chrysler is the only one of the domestics who’s current situation can not be blamed on their past management, since none of the players in the 90’s (Gale, Stallkamp, Lutz, Pauley, Caistang, et. al.) were in control after Daimler and Cerberus raped and neglected them in that order. Chrysler has not been the captain of their own ship for over 12 years. Before that they were the most profitable of the Detroit 3.”=====


    …and at NO point in this post do you demonstrate a “good understanding” of the North American automomotive industry, whose base problems… root cause… are a result of overcapacity within the industry.

    Overcapacity has been the problem. Know it. Accept it. Deal with it. We are, finally, even if it takes idiot politicians in Washington to finally drive it into your head. They are doing that, you know, in their own ham-handed way, even if they are making the taxpayers pay for it.

    This overcapacity resulted from the certain knowledge that all of the Big 3 would survive no matter what foolishness they engaged in, and that certain knowledge was cemented 30 years ago, when Chrysler was placed on life support.

    Beyond that date, the Big 3 basically became capital destruction machines… all of them… even more than the steel industry of that era… and that’s really saying something. How could they be other than that? Chasing market share is a losing proposition, and eventually somebody has to die. Or they do, if Government Motors doesn’t step in.

    Take your sentimental eyes off Lido’s swashbuckling, the minivan revolution, the Hemi, the splashy pickups, cab forward and all the whining about the Germans’ destruction of same. Chrysler was the case that broke decades of industry consolidation and creative destruction… and set fire to the North American industry. It’s still burning. We are paying for it.

    Most profitable? Sorry, no. You get sick enough, and then you die. And it only takes one bout of sickness, as we know given automotive history. Had GM and Ford picked over Chrysler’s product line 30 years ago, the tech centers and the good people… had the UAW and Big 2 management been forced to face up to the demographic madness their course was taking… had the Detroit Golf Club seen a 5-10% reduction in memberships as a result of Chrysler executives moving on… the North American automotive industry might very well be in a profitable situation today… even through a massive downturn… during which responsible management would have been able to do the necessary cost cutting that brought on survival. You can do none of theis if you’re chained to the ball of overcapacity, and Chrysler’s bailout locked that ball into place.

    Life involves death. Accepting that allows us to deal with root cause, and to have a chance to live in prosperity. Chrysler should have been dead 30 years ago.

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