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Art Smalley

Art Smalley: Always Room for Improvement

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Monday, February 21, 2011 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

The Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued their release of the study performed in conjunction with NASA engineers with regards to the safety of Toyota vehicles with regards to the potential causes of sudden unintended acceleration. The finding was a positive one for Toyota.

The results of a ten-month study by 30 NASA engineers of possible electronic causes of unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles was released today by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).

“NASA found no evidence that a malfunction in electronics caused large unintended accelerations,” said Michael Kirsch, principal engineer and team lead of the study from the NASA Engineering and Safety Center (NESC) based at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.

For those interested in the details a 180 page pdf file of the report is online at this location as well as the shorter executive summary.

http://www.nasa.gov/topics/nasalife/features/nesc-toyota-study.html

This is certainly positive news for Toyota and owners of Toyota vehicles. From what I understand Toyota was confident that this would be the result but no amount of internal claims will convince the public in such a case which also deals with the court of public opinion.

Toyota did of course have problems with sticky pedals and floor mat problems and that is not covered by this report which was the more serious of the technical issues. Countermeasures were put in place for the other problems already.

So are Toyota’s troubles all clear? The NASA finding is positive news for the company but it will take time before the court of public opinion settles down. Any small mistake will be jumped upon by the press for some time now. That is the price you pay when things like this happen regardless of the facts of the matter. Only time and future performance will tell if Toyota maintains its reputation for quality.

In some ways shocks to the system can be beneficial. If this makes Toyota improve its efforts in product design and quality control even further then there will be a silver lining to this painful set of events. I can’t predict the future any better than the next person but I am fairly confident in the case of Toyota. The company has over come obstacles in the past and will most likely do so again in the future.

Some things of note about this set of events is that despite the bad publicity and arguably poor handing of public relations in the media, Toyota stayed true to the concepts of Respect for People and Continuous Improvement. Whatever mistakes were made (and there are always problems and mistakes made in any organization) Toyota was certainly not engaged in any intentionally malicious behavior. Respect for the customer still is what the drives the company to perform.

Secondly inside of their Continuous Improvement pillar Toyota always preaches “Genchi Genbutsu” or get the facts from the actual location and the actual source. In this case the facts all came out and Toyota looks exonerated. That is part of the nature of improvement in science and engineering. The court of public opinion is swift, unkind, and often mistaken. In the end the truth appears to have come out and is not as bad as many implied.

When it comes to safety however there is no acceptable level of mistakes and Toyota realizes this reality. Toyota will reflect and learn from this case and make further countermeasures in product design, development, and testing.

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