I have not been getting this question so much these days, but it is still relevant. I posted some comments on LinkedIn that I will copy here with a few additions.
First of all Toyota uses TPS (Toyota Production System) and TBP (Toyota Business Practices) and recently started using the term “lean” in conversation, but lean as we know it is really just a copy of TPS. Before Ican answer the question I want to clarify one thing….people LOVE a good story and controversy and gossip and so forth so the FACTS are glossed over in favor of the good story. If we step back and look at the facts we have to see that with a greater number of vehicles produced comes a higher probability of defects (1% of 10 million is greater than 1% of 100,000) even if the actual defect rate per vehicle is constant. So while it appears to be more of a problem proportionately it is not. But again to the public that is beside the point.
Also the complexity of modern vehicles and thus the possibility of failure has increased over the years. The possibility of failure modes has increased with the advent of computers and technology. Again, to the public they can’t see that even though complexity has increased the actual number of complaints per vehicle has remained fairly constant over time, which is actually then an improvement.
Never mind those things, and also the fact that in the US anyway with the issues it has been proven that the media fabricated stories, people overreacted, there were frauds, etc. all blowing the situation out of proportion. I suggest you get a copy of Jeff Liker’s book “Toyota Under Fire” and see how the media falsified things. Also it must be noted that the issue was based in the US and the defects were isolated from each other indicating individual failures rather than systemic breakdown of the system.
Step back and look at other indicators such as JD Powers and overall satisfaction and Consumer Reports, etc. The quality level is actually very good. Perfect, NO, but not showing a systemic decline. Some isolated events which can happen when designing and building a complex product where thousands (millions?) of opportunities for failure can occur somewhere along that process (design to build and all the way throughout the supply chain). But again the FACTS don’t change the minds of people wanting to tell a good story.
There is no doubt that every organization has problems- even Toyota. In fact that is the primary focus at Toyota- to find problems and correct them. I suggest a quick Google search of Toyota leader interviews from 5 or more years ago and note that every interview is full of concern for the challenges, problems, etc. I remember one about 5 years ago with Watanabe in Wall Street Journal I think where he was talking about the future and the challenges and what he was worried about. Very gloomy. And that was when Toyota was just at the top and having great success. Almost the same day was an interview in USA today with Rich Wagner of GM talking about GM’s “Sunny Future” just around the corner. (That was before they went to Congress to ask for a bailout).
Toyota leaders always talk about the “bad stuff”, the problems or potential and what they need to watch out for. Over and over I heard this message in my time with Toyota. Every year we “went back to basics” to make sure we didn’t overlook any problems. So I mention to people that Toyota NEVER said they have no problems. I always heard them say “We have many problems.”
Why do people who are working to implement lean think that in doing so they will have no problems? Inexperience. In time they will come to understand that the whole system is designed to show problems or potential problems.