Assembly Blog

Oh Quality, Where Art Thou?

April 15, 2014

A few days ago, Toyota announced that it’s recalling six million vehicles worldwide to fix faulty wiring that might disable airbags. That news comes on top of General Motors’s ignition switch recall affecting more than two million vehicles.

But, GM and Toyota are not alone. Chrysler, Honda and Nissan have also had big recalls this year. And, I’m sure other automakers will soon join them on the naughty list.

We’re not even one-third of the way through 2014 and automakers have recalled a whopping 11 million vehicles in the United States. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, that’s half the 22 million cars recalled in 2013.

If this recall madness continues, the auto industry is on pace to set a record. Does anyone know what’s behind this alarming trend?

During my last few visits to automotive assembly plants (including facilities run by both domestic and foreign OEMs), I’ve noticed a large number of vehicles sitting idle at the end of the line either awaiting inspection or awaiting fixes.

The recent slew of recalls has left me baffled. Six Sigma, lean manufacturing and other quality-driven, error-proofing initiatives been firmly entrenched at OEMs and suppliers for more than a decade now.

On the same page of a newspaper I read recently, a headline entitled “Airline quality at 24-year high” appeared just below the following headline: “Carmakers rev up recalls.”

Perhaps the auto industry should look to Delta, JetBlue, Southwest and other airlines for some new ideas. Of course, automobiles are extremely complex products with thousands of components that must function flawlessly under all sorts of conditions. And, as cars get loaded up with more and more gee-whiz features (rearview cameras anyone?), the chance for parts glitches and quality snafus will multiply.

What do you think is behind all the recent recalls? Who do you point a finger at? Is it aggressive cost-cutting efforts by top management who don’t understand engineering and manufacturing? Are engineers being forced to make poor decisions? Is the “talent gap” to blame? Do today’s vehicles share too many modules and platforms?

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