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Quality, the biggest risk confronting Toyota on the top of the world

7, 24. 2007

   Toyota Motor Corp. has successively introduced to the world new models of cars highly important to the market since 2006, such as the American best seller Camry, world's best seller Carolla, and the top-in-the-Lexus-series LS. So far, everything has gone smoothly without any trouble to the quality of each of the models. Some industry sources say, however, that the people who are actually involved in the production of those cars have been stretched out for too long. "This kind of situation can't last long," they say. The company appeared to have been trying to avoid any defect in its production by setting up an inspection system like that under an emergency alert. It is thriving on achieving a sales increase of as much as 10 million units as early as in 2010. The company has also to meet the challenge of high technology advance symbolized hybrid cars, while it has to exert efforts for the production of cheaper-priced cars meet the competition from Chinese makers. Toyota is entering into new fields which it has never experienced before one after another. Risk always lurks in effort to maintain high quality.

Foreman system revised to cope with increases in young and temporary workers

Toyota has been introducing Camry and other new cars since late 2006.
Toyota has been introducing Camry and other new cars since late 2006.

   Just until one year ago, the highly reputed "Toyota of quality" had been somewhat shaky. The number of Toyota cars recalled in the United States topped 2 million in 2003 and got closed to 2 million in Japan. A department director of the company was officially charged in 2006 against alleged negligence of dealing with defects. Akio Toyoda, vice-president of Toyota, said at a press conference in July of that year, "I am ashamed of making our own customers feel uncertain about their cars. We will regain the trust as early as possible."

   The quality of Toyota cars has not improved by making efforts in such a short time as only one year. The company began in April 2005 the "CF (customer first) Activity" under which the company's president took in charge directly of supervising the activities of the company as a whole in development, production and sales for improving the quality. Katsuaki Watanabe, who became president of the company in June of that year, put an emphasis in his policy on "firming the foothold" and "completion in single processing" . He called on the entire company to honor the basics of the Toyota production system in which any defect product shall not be sent over to the next processing.

   Specifically, a system called "in-line measurement" was introduced at the assembly line, under which each of parts is measured precisely and if any defect part is found the cause of the defect is investigated to the bottom. The system of assigning a foreman (team leader) to taking a charge of supervising five or so workers was revived as an increased number of young and temporary workers were employed.

   In the development activity, a thorough check-up was made to find out which veteran worker is well versed in what kind of know-how. And the veterans were "drawn on the map". In this advanced IT age, it is easy for any one to draw a blueprint. But the computer does not promise that anything drawn on the blueprint can be produced precisely as intended. The expertise of the veterans are thus written into the drawings for minute checking from the development stage.

Projects launched over the world, causing personnel shortages on the job

   It is needless to say that measures were taken for a quick result, including the assignment of more workers to check the defect products at assembly lines and making more test cars. What is ideal, however, is that any defect product is not made in the natural flow of development and production. According to the people who are concerned with the Toyota production method, the measures already taken by the company are already bringing out desired result, and the occurrence of any defect has been halved.

   The worries of Toyota, which endlessly tries to expand itself, about the quality have not disappeared, in spite of all the efforts. The production of electronic cars contains risks within itself of unexpected bugs that might cause troubles relating to the safety. As the projects for new models and new assembly lines are launched worldwide, there are the shortages of personnel who take in charge of supervising the work places and other supply lines are over stretched. Supplies are voicing doubt if the company can maintain good quality concerning its plan to introduce a cheap car at the targeted price of 600,000 yen meant for sales in developing countries.

   A cup filled with water to the brim can spill over the water at any moment. To have a bigger cup, the company is required of improving the quality guarantee system and technology, and it has to train its personnel.

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