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New Product Introduction Flaws Getting Very Visible for the Automotive Industry

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This week, business media noted an announcement from Nissan Motor Co. recalling 13, 919 of its newly designed Altima sedans.  The recall spans the 2012-2013 model years of vehicles produced at the automaker’s Canton Mississippi plant from May 10 through July 26 of this year. According to Nissan, the problem is related to four transverse link bolts and two power steering rack bolts that were apparently not torqued to the required specification.  The concern is that some of these bolts could loosen and fall off, increasing the risk of a crash.  The problem was discovered by production workers who discovered the situation after a characterized routine test. According to various news sources, there are no mentions of any injuries or crashes caused by this situation.

The Nissan Altima is a premier model for Nissan, and according to a published article in Reuters, currently accounts for 27 percent of the company’s sales in the U.S.  The vehicle has undergone a total redesign for the 2013 model year and continues to be positioned as the premier product in the overall product line.  Some consumers might question why it may have taken 3 months for routine tests to identify the problem.  Then again, they can provide Nissan the benefit of a doubt that the automaker decided to be cautious in the wake of the July inspection.  We can also speculate why it has taken three months to make the product recall decision.

The Altima recall comes on the heels of Ford Motor Company’s immediate recall of its brand new 2013 Escape SUV model in July of this year.  That incident involved the recall of 11, 500 vehicles based on a concern for a serious potential for fuel leakage.  Ford made the usual step of urging owners to stop driving their vehicles and make arrangements to have the subject vehicles towed to a local dealer at Ford’s expense.  That problem was suspected to be caused by a manufacturing process flaw in fuel lines supplied by parts supplier T1 Automotive.  The timing of that recall could not have come at the worst time for Ford. The 2013 Ford Escape was totally redesigned for 2013 to leverage Ford’s global single platform strategy, and represented one of the two critical product launches planned for 2012.  The market introduction of new 2013 Escape had already been delayed by other factors, including too much leftover inventory of the 2012 model year.  Shortly after the fuel line recall, Ford subsequently had to issue an additional recall concerning 8,266 of the 2013 Escape SUVs in the U.S. to fix carpet padding that could hinder proper braking. Ford indicated that wrongly positioned carpet padding could reduce space around the pedals and cause drivers to hit the side of the brake pedal when switching from the accelerator.  In late July Supply Chain Matters opined that the market introduction strategy appeared to be botched given the amount of negative oriented news concerning the Escape nameplate.

These incidents involving newly designed platforms are not confined to just two nameplate OEM’s. A search of the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration web site includes other nameplates:

June 2012: BMW model 2013 X5/X6 SUV’s equipped with diesel engines due to a suspected machining problem within the steering wheel case, causing potential steering gear oil leakage and a potential fire.

July 2012: Hyundai 2012-2013 newly designed Sonata passenger cars manufactured between January-June 2012 for an issue involving airbags suddenly deploying, due to manufacturing error.

July 2012: Honda recalled 172,000 2012 CRV SUV’s and 2013 Accura ILX passenger sedans due to issues with the front door locks causing door to not lock properly.

Any new product has an initial period where certain undiscovered flaws can initially appear.  Product teams anticipate these circumstances and compensate with added inspections and checks.  With some much written about the maturity and deeper collaboration of new product introduction processes, we can all wonder why the frequency of product recall incidents involving re-designed products continues.  There are considerations for common component parts utilized across all product platforms, newer and older.  There are considerations related to the global platform strategy itself, magnifying the impact of a quality or product design flaw.  The increasing use of more sophisticated on-board electronics certainly adds a new dimension, coupled with the burden of component product innovation transferred to supplier responsibility.

One thin appears certain and that is that deeper supplier collaboration and more-timely, early-warning information is becoming essential for product management and supplier teams.

In the end, continued product recall incidents reinforce consumer impressions to wait out a new product until all the “bugs” are discovered.

Bob Ferrari

 

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