Edwards Deming would be so proud. The man who endowed the Japanese with a passion for quality after the Second World War might appreciate the level of perfection his protege Toyota now brings to the fine art of corporate self-destruction. At every step of the way Toyota has outperformed all competitors. They have made the Ford Firestone tire recall catastrophe look like a mere firecracker in the plumbing. Even Enron, in the rearview mirror, looks like a mild case of the flu.
This morning Toyota took out a full page apology in the N.Y. Times, in the form of Toyota’s Pledge To You. It is a feast for those that dine on carrion. But before we look at what Toyota is pledging to do from now on that they apparently haven’t done before, let’s look at where they are right now and what the facts seem to be.
Toyota is in the middle of two recalls, one for accelerator problems in which your car suddenly develops a manic desire to go as fast as it can. The result is panicked drivers, high speed catastrophic crashes, and 29 people dead since 1999. Toyota in the first stage of denial hoped it might be floor mats. When a crashed car was found with the floor mats in the trunk, Toyota offered a new theory that an accelerator made by CTS was the problem. When it turned out that the problem had occurred in Toyotas built before CTS became a supplier, Toyota finally admitted what many automotive insiders had already known as far back as 2002: it was a software problem.
Your Toyota accelerator is as connected to your engine as the pilot in Nevada is connected to the drone she’s flying over Afghanistan. The only difference is when the connection is dropped to the drone as it heads into that mountain, the pilot still gets to go to lunch. For the Toyota driver, not so good.
The software that controls the engine speed apparently was written in Japan. The new and even more perfect version of that software suddenly appeared a few days ago and is presently being downloaded to Toyotas all over the world. The same fix could have and should have been in all Toyotas when they got built in the first place, but a few engineers in Japan didn’t run adequate “what if” scenarios, shipped bad code, and never looked back.
Which brings us to today’s apology. It comes from Jim Lentz, the President and COO of Toyota U.S. On behalf of all 172,000 Toyota employees in the U.S. he pledges they will try harder. Thanks, Jim, but they don’t really need to try harder. They weren’t the problem. They shouldn’t be held responsible. You have the wrong people pledging the wrong solution. It’s the guys who designed the car in the first place who should be wringing their hands and pleading for mercy.
If you would like to see more of Toyota’s perfection in pursuit of corporate catastrophe, navigate over to their website and view the hysterical videos of how their electronic throttles work. The voice over seems to be by the same guy who used to do the duck and cover nuclear war training movies. The Toyota videos are so bad they are much more fun.
Now I’ll bet you’d next like to know why Prius brake pedals are also connected to the wheels through a computer that runs on faulty code. But first, all those tens of thousands of Toyota employees need scrape and bow and tell you how sorry they are.
Here’s what Toyota needs to do right now — not just for their consumers but for themselves. All the blather about trying harder doesn’t mean anything at all. What they need to do is find the systems, the human management systems, that let bad engineering get into vehicles as far back as 2002 and not be corrected until now. Hire better software engineers. Create failsafe architecture in every life-endangering system. Bring in genius-level destructive testing. Reward those who immediately surface problems. Fire those who delay that surfacing. When you’ve done that, then you can start your messaging that tells us specifically what you’ve discovered and changed. Then, and only then, we might start to trust you.
In other news, The American Society for Quality has asked Dr. Toyoda to return the Deming Medal. It was, apparently, a mistake.