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Laurel Thoennes @ Quality Digest

Quality Insider

Toyota Reshapes Operations, NASA Investigates Accelerator Issues

Chief quality officers to be the direct link between customers and management

Published: Tuesday, March 30, 2010 - 13:35

Toyota Motor Corp. will approach its worldwide quality assurance efforts from the standpoint of customers, and by keeping in mind the need for strengthened global communication and for ensuring transparency, the newly formed Special Committee for Global Quality has decided on various improvement measures aimed at resolving current issues.

According to Toyota president and chair of the Special Committee, Akio Toyoda, in a March 30 Toyota press release, the decision-making process for recalls and other safety matters will be restructured so that chief quality officers (CQOs)—who are the ones with direct contact with customers—will participate in the decision making at Toyota’s global headquarters regarding recalls and other safety matters. Through the Special Committee and on a regular basis, the CQOs will provide information regarding customers complaints, product defects, and the progress of recalls and other safety measures.

Regional versions of the Special Committee will be set up and their performance reviewed by local third-party experts. The quality improvement measures adopted by the Special Committee will be reviewed by four third-party experts. The initial findings of these reviews are planned to be released in June.

Read the complete list of measures here.

While Toyota is taking strides to listen to the voice of the customer, The U.S. Department of Transportation’s auto safety agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), is just beginning its review of Toyota electronic throttles and unintended acceleration.

The NHTSA has enlisted the help of nine engineers from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) with expertise in computer-controlled electronic systems, electromagnetic interference, software integrity, and complex problem solving. Requesting NASA to join the investigation came from suggestions made at the recent congressional hearings, although U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says that NHTSA could handle this review without assistance. 

According to a March 30 report from Reuters, experts from the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences will examine unintended acceleration and electronic vehicle controls throughout the entire automotive industry over the course of 15 months. This will not be limited to Toyota, but will cover all manufacturers. A panel of experts will review industry and government efforts to identify possible sources of unintended acceleration, including electronic vehicle controls, human error, mechanical failure, and interference with accelerator systems.

The experts will look at software, computer hardware design, electromagnetic compatibility, and electromagnetic interference. The panel will make recommendations to NHTSA on how its rulemaking, research, and defect investigation activities may help ensure the safety of electronic control systems in motor vehicles.

Questions have been raised about whether the NHTSA has adequately handled investigations into complaints of possible electronic throttle problems according to the Reuters report. 

A March 30 statement from the Office of Public Affairs of the Department of Transportation reports that Secretary LaHood asked the U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General to assess whether the NHTSA Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) conducted an adequate review of complaints of alleged unintended acceleration reported to NHTSA from 2002 to the present. The inspector general will also determine whether ODI had the appropriate number of personnel and staff expertise to assess and address the technical issues raised by the complaints and whether the data was sufficient to identify specific defects that caused unintended acceleration. That information will help the Department of Transportation officials determine whether more resources are necessary for pursuing defect investigations.

Both studies—from the National Academy of Sciences and from NHTSA—will be peer reviewed by scientific experts. The total cost of the two studies is expected to come to approximately $3 million, including the cost of purchasing cars that have allegedly experienced unintended acceleration to be studied. The NHTSA review of the electronic throttle control systems in Toyotas is to be completed by late summer.

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About The Author

Laurel Thoennes @ Quality Digest’s picture

Laurel Thoennes @ Quality Digest

Laurel Thoennes is an editor at Quality Digest. She has worked in the media industry for 33 years at newspapers, magazines, and UC Davis—the past 25 years with Quality Digest.