Many of us in the lean community – all of us long admirers of Toyota and ardent proponents of the business and manufacturing model they spawned – have had to make excuses for Toyota and rationalize some of their failings recently. The latest one, however, demonstrates just how far they have slipped from the principles that propelled them to greatness.
3.8 million cars recalled due to floor mats, of all things, getting caught up in the accelerator. What makes it so inexcusable is that it is not the first time. "Toyota recalled 55,000 Camry and Lexus ES 350 models in 2007 because of complaints of unintended acceleration caused by the mats sticking under the accelerator pedal. The NHTSA said consumers continued to report instances of uncontrolled acceleration in Toyota models after that recall."
So much for quality, and so much for continuous improvement and learning. This is a lapse in fundamental execution that even Chrysler on its worst day would have likely avoided. Ohno and Shingo must be spinning in their graves at what boils down to sheer apathy. The original Toyodas would consider resigning on the spot in shame over such an embarrassment. Just how far the company has fallen from those founding principles, and just how much work Akio Toyoda has ahead of him to put his grandfather Kiichiro's company back on track is apparent.
The saddest part is the failure of Toyota to adhere to their own values will become fodder for those who look to rationalize their failed manufacturing practices. I can almost hear them braying in Detroit already: "See, Toyota isn't so great."
On the bright side, if anyone knows how to pull of a lean transformation, it ought to be Toyota. I wish them good luck on their return journey to lean.