Four years of ongoing investigations of Toyota's recall of more than ten million vehicles for accelerator pedal has finally come to a halt with a massive fine of 1.2 billion USD – the largest ever in the ‘auto-history’ of United States! Hats off to the United States Dept. of Justice who have left no stone unturned while investigating this matter. I was aghast by the fact that Toyota not only concealed the fault related information from government officials but also mislead customers to protect the brand image. This event would prove to be more unfortunate if auto-industry looks at it merely as ‘breaking news’ and no action is taken or no lesson is learnt from it.
It all started in the year 2009…when some of the customers reported that their ‘Corolla’s or ‘Camry’s accelerate suddenly even without the driver input. Initially it was concluded that it was because of the oversized floor mats. Later when the problem continued to appear in spite of replacing the floor mats, sticky accelerator pedal came into focus. This problem was fatal to the passenger safety as well as the brand reputation. It took a heavy toll on Toyota Corporation not only in terms of cost of part replacement but also in the form of declining sale, loss of customer faith and many more. So far, the faulty accelerator pedal has claimed twelve lives, which no amount of money can repay.
In a broader perspective, these sorts of problems are like icebergs; their unseen part is much more than the visible portion. In a corporation like Toyota, which has mastered the efficiency enhancement techniques like ‘six sigma’; it is quite surprising to see that a safety issue like this remains unattained for so long. Roots of this problem, I think are located somewhere around the cut throat competition of present age. Huge investments, market demand for cheap products, ever increasing raw material prices, reducing profit margins, pressure of timely delivery, stressed and overloaded workforce etc. are the factors that sow the seeds of these mistakes.
The end product of any company is the result of every individual's contribution. Likewise, any failure also has multiple reasons linked to it. Unless every working element has this sense of responsibility towards the end product, it is difficult to even think about faultless product! Some of the remedial actions in such a situation include developing a skilled workforce that is competent technically as well as mentally for the particular type of job. Even a slightest mistake resulting from the lack of knowledge in the particular area becomes monstrous as it passes from one stage of product life into the other. In addition, adopting the corporate structure that will enhance the process control helps a lot. Safety aspects are to be taken into account not only at the production stage but from design phase itself. By this way, problems would be rectified or even eliminated before they turn into a monster! Although 'Customer' is the ultimate driving force of any company, timely delivery should not hamper the quality of the product. Instead of putting a potentially risky product 'on time' in the hands of the customer, it is much better to put a safe product a bit late!
In a nutshell, avoidance of any such mistake calls for improved technical competency, cherishing the sense of responsibility on individual level and improved safety procedures within the company. With this incidence, car manufacturers should make a note that ‘delivering a car to customer is not the end of their responsibility....it's just the beginning!'
Let us hope that this is the dawn of new era in the automotive safety..!!