Supply Chain Matters provides another update to the ongoing crisis involving aftermarket spare parts and service management supply chains within the Automotive sector as unprecedented levels of product recalls stress the system to its limits. U.S. automakers alone have recalled more than 30 million vehicles this year as a result of a heightened regulatory environment that has prompted auto makers to issue a recall out of an Abundance of caution and legal protection.
Regarding the product recalls related to the airbag inflators produced by Takata Corrp., this has been a rather busy week of finger-pointing and consternation.
Last week, U.S. regulators nearly doubled the estimate of vehicles subject to recall. Reports have come to light that auto makers and regulators were aware of Takata air bag inflator problems for several years. The Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office that led the investigation and $1.2 billion fine on Toyota to settle a previous incident related to unintended acceleration of vehicles is now reported to have launched a preliminary investigation of the ongoing Takata inflator incident. On the political front, Congressional leaders in Washington are threatening more probes of the National Highway Safety and Traffic Administration (NHSTA) for its handling on the ongoing air bag inflator incidents, a sure sign of more political pressures and maneuvering.
On Tuesday, the CEO of AutoNation, the largest auto retailer in the U.S. indicated that he has instructed his dealerships to halt the sales of 400 used cars that are subject to the airbag inflator recall. He further urged regulators to get control of an “incoherent response”.
Yesterday, NHSTA gave inflator supplier Takata a deadline of December 1 to supply added documents and respond under oath to additional questions.
From a service supply chain perspective, NHTSA released details of industry meetings indicating that it will take several months before there are enough spare parts to support the current inflator recall. It appears that most automotive manufacturers are prioritizing the limited supply of replacement inflators to warm and humid regions, which has been identified as the most probable risk for failure and subsequent injury. Reports indicate that BMW, Ford and Mazda are limiting spare replacements to the few identified high-humidity southern U.S. states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Indeed, NHTSA had issued guidelines supporting prioritization of replacement parts to these most at-risk regions, but automobile owners remain confused and frustrated as to what to do. That continues to add more pressure to automobile dealers and their associated services businesses to be able to respond to consumer fears for driving an unsafe vehicle. In our conversation with various people this week we have already heard stories from those impacted by recall or service campaign notices.
The colliding forces of regulatory, political, and automotive replacement spare parts networks continue and may well continue for many more months.
In a published Supply Chain Matters commentary in June, Service Supply Chains Put to the Ultimate Stress Test in the Automotive Industry, we focused on General Motors, which after intense scrutiny from U.S. regulators and legislators regarding faulty ignition switches among multiple models, had recalled thousands of vehicles. At that time, GM had announced a cumulative 44 product recalls involving nearly 18 million previously sold vehicles not only for faulty ignition switches but for various other lingering quality problems.
Other Automotive OEM’s have also found themselves under intense regulatory scrutiny, and many elected to err on the side of caution and declare product recalls if there were any concerns regarding vehicle or occupant safety. The result led to a Washington Post headline indicating that one out of every ten vehicles on the road had been subject to a recall notice. That amounts to a lot of motor vehicles.
Beyond the challenge of potential damage to brands and subsequent consumer brand loyalty, our primary concern in June was that automotive service and aftermarket supply chains were about to face their biggest stress test ever. The sheer numbers implied that required replacement part inventories were not going to be able to match expected demand and that inventory would have to be re-allocated or alternate suppliers would have to be sourced. Dealers and authorized repair facilities had to be very careful in scheduling service appointments and setting customer expectations regarding replacement part availability and concerns for vehicle safety.
Also included in our June commentary, was reference to reports that product recalls related to defective airbag inflators produced by supplier Takata Corp. were expected to increase after a series of investigations.
Flash forward to today, and now the sheer scope and impact of the unfolding product recalls involving defective Takata airbag inflators is approaching millions of additional vehicles and multiple other brands. U.S. regulatory agencies have raised alarms for the safety of occupants with calls for immediate attention. Web sites are swapped with consumers seeking the status of their vehicles. Business and general media have not taken the time to get the facts sorted out regarding the largest concern being potential defective airbag inflators operating in warm and humid climates. Instead, consumers from across the U.S. are forced to seek answers and demand attention as to whether their vehicle is safe to operate.
By our lens, automotive aftermarket service and parts networks have now been literally thrown under the proverbial bus.
It wasn’t their fault.
The events did not allow the planning for adequate replacement parts or analysis to the required capacity of service repair and replacement resources. The problem was thrown over the wall because quality monitoring mechanisms stalled and time had run out for planned response. Organizational interplays and CYA were probably at-play as well.
Already, OEM’s such as Toyota are trying to proactively respond to this defective air bag inflator crisis in the most realistic manner. Reports indicate that Toyota dealers are being requested to disable the potential defective airbag mechanisms of recalled vehicles and instruct vehicle owners to return when replacement parts are made available. They are doing so because of the reality of backlogged replacement parts which are substantial. In the meantime, temporary labels affixed on vehicles warn occupants of a safety hazard of not having operating airbags.
How comforting is that?
But, without adequate replacement part inventories, there are little options right now.
Service supply networks will invariably come-up with means to prioritize the most important and time sensitive parts requirements and then move on to the various other replacement part requirements to get through this crisis.
The takeaway from these ongoing unprecedented set of automotive industry product recall events is that if the business situation requires much more responsive, supply-chain wide quality monitoring mechanisms and more informed service and aftermarket spare parts networks, than provide the necessary tools and resources required to get the job done.
No doubt, there will be considerable repercussions and learning that come from these events. There will invariable be far more attention paid toward vehicle safety, regulatory safety and reporting and supply chain wide quality adherence.
In the meantime, as automotive consumers, we need to allow the time and patience for the dedicated professionals who plan and fulfill aftermarket parts and service event requirements to adequately respond to the crisis at-hand while more attention is directed toward more responsive quality management.
© 2014 The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group LLC and the Supply Chain Matters Blog. All rights reserved.
In a June 2014 Supply Chain Matters commentary, Automotive Component Supply Strategy Meets Sensitized Regulatory Environment, we called attention to a published Reuters report indicating that product recalls involving airbags supplied by Japan based Takata Corp. would expand and involve millions of affected motor vehicles and ensnarl many global brands.
That situation has become ever more visible in a multitude of cascading product recalls and urgent consumer advisories involving many auto brands from entry-level to upscale luxury.
Today, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a high visibility consumer advisory, urging owners of over 4.7 million recalled vehicles to act immediately on recall notices and replace defective Takata airbags due to suspected defective air bag inflators. Brands involve BMW, General Motors, Honda, Mazda and Nissan and the vehicle models date back as far as 2000-2001. While this advisory notes specific urgency for certain U.S. states and regions featuring warm, humid climates that fact seems to be blurred by the blast of Monday news from general media. The other reality is that many vehicle owners may have ignored previous recall notices which could jeopardize the safety of occupants.
Aftermarket service and spare part networks are already stressed by a surge of product recalls issued from an abundance of caution to avoid punitive financial fines. This latest high profile consumer warning related to certain airbag deflator defects will add more stress to overly stressed networks that lack the tools to handle such volumes.
Automotive OEM’s have fostered component product innovation strategies among a key set of lower-tiered component system suppliers, and OEM’s leverage such innovation across multiple vehicle and brand platforms. These strategies were put in place to foster both faster product innovation cycles as well as to be able to leverage volume supply costs across multiple global platforms. The objective of leveraging lower component costs has never gone away, at least for certain OEM’s.
Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal featured a report (paid subscription or free metered view) indicating that Honda, after a long supplier relationship, is re-evaluating that arrangement with Takada in light of a series of airbag inflator product defects. Reports indicate that defective air bags, some dating back to the early 2000’s, could send metal shrapnel flying upon air bag inflation, posing serious injury risk to drivers and/or passengers. According to reports, Takada utilizes a different propellant than other suppliers, one that is cheaper but more volatile. Rival air bag suppliers that could benefit from the current crisis include Autoliv, DaicelKey Safety Systems and TRW Automotive Holdings, which is being acquired by German based ZF. The WSJ further reported that Toyota and Nissan are also concerned about Takata air bag systems in the light of the current circumstances. But, switching suppliers that support one or several global product platforms is somewhat more challenging from a timing perspective.
The WSJ report provides some in-depth perspective on how Takada has expanded its global just-in-time supplier footprint to accommodate individual OEM platform demand. The report alludes that the product quality problems may have stemmed from a period of rapid growth, testing communication and process discipline among far-flung regional plants. After two years of investigation, Honda and Takata joint quality teams discovered certain machine defects in a plant in Washington state and in process parameters in a Mexican plant. At times, poor record keeping hindered the ability to figure out which cars had defective inflators installed.
Whether Takada can recover from this ongoing and compounding product recall and branding crisis is certainly open to skepticism and speculation. However, Supply Chain Matters feels that automotive OEM’s face their-own realities related to product development and global product platform cycles. A global platform strategy supported by component supply agreements has to be balanced with supplier risk. Requiring suppliers to locate just-in-time production across far-flung global regions requires an assessment of rigid process control discipline and conformance. When such controls indicate cause for concern, two-way communication must be forthright and honest and procurement teams need to be proactive in assessing and communicating risk implications.
Today’s overly sensitized regulatory environment requires timely feedback and responsive risk mitigation.
The passenger safety, financial, and brand risks are far higher.
Supply Chain Matters provides our readers periodic updates to examples of how supply chain snafus can impact business performance. In that light, we have provided ongoing commentaries related to Lululemon Athletica and its prior sourcing and production snafus of one of its most popular line of yoga pants for women.
In March of 2013 this global B2C online and brick and mortar specialty retailer was forced to both recall and stop selling its most popular line of women’s summer yoga pants after discovering that the “sheerness” of the fabric allowed too much to be seen underneath. The CEO was compelled to publically apologize to customers for the problem and a short time later, announced her desire to step down from her CEO role due to personal reasons. Later in 2013, both a new CEO and Chief Products Officer was brought on-board, unfortunately too late to make any influential impact regarding the 2013 holiday buying period.
The latest business media update for Lululemon reflects a sales recovery with new product designs now becoming attractive for shoppers. Last week, the specialty retailer provided higher-than-expected revenues and profits and raised its outlook for the full year. Online sales increased 30 percent from the year earlier while sales at physical outlets decreased 5 percent. In its reporting, The Wall Street Journal declared: “a sign that efforts to put supply-chain problems and fashion missteps behind are beginning to deliver results.” Prospective investors were certainly impressed, sending the stock upwards in double-digits.
To accomplish this turnaround, supplier relationships were augmented and a new line of fashion products was accelerated to provide more online and store shelf assortment in July, a traditional transitional period from summer to fall. The product line had emphasis other than basic black and gray, which resulted in higher cost and a near 4 basis point erosion in gross margin.
More supply chain challenges remain including upping the assortment of in-demand products that consumers demand as well as further supply chain process improvements. However, the situation seems more of a positive direction.
Our community is often reminded of the both the immediate costs associated with supply chain disruption as well as the longer-term impacts to brand and stock-price. In the specific case of Lululemon, it has been a span of 18 months of such impacts and learning. During that time, competitors have managed to seize an opportunity and provide consumers with other attractive and functional choices.
As acknowledged by company management, more work remains and it wilol certainly include a closer relationship of product design and supply chain.
In the week that Apple staged its massive media event announcing two of its newest iPhone models, BloombergBusinessweek featured an intriguing article titled: Apple’s iPhone 6 First Responders. The report serves as a very timely reminder of the critical importance for harvesting product performance and service reliability information very early in the product launch stages.
The Apple program outlined is termed early field failure analysis (EFFA). The Bloomberg authors had a novel spin as to the purpose, one that may well resonate with our reader audience: “ As customers line up to buy the device (iPhone) around the world, Apple employees will show up at work to learn how they screwed up- and fix it.”
Humor aside, the Apple program was conceived to resolve problems before they become far larger in-scope, when they are far more expensive to resolve across an outsourced supply chain. Bloomberg cites former Apple employee sources as indicating that EFFA testing is most stringent during the device’s first weeks of consumer sales, but can continue longer as problems arise. Therefore, the EFFA program for the iPhone 6 models is most likely underway as we pen this commentary. Once more, the report confirms that defective Apple devices returned at Apple retail outlets are directly airfreighted to Cupertino where the phone is physically examined and where manufacturing history can be traced to individual workers on an assembly line. There are some rather fascinating examples of how previous problems were found and resolved before they became a thorn.
The report is worthy of a read since it provides further evidence of the importance of connecting the service management business process with the product supply chain. It further provides evidence of how Apple’s product management and supply chain teams harness early feedback information related to specific products to avoid more costly issues and to protect the image of the brand. I suppose we could add that it also avoids the wrath of CEO Tim Cook when consumers feedback any displeasure in an Apple product.
Over these past days, business and general media has produced high visibility reports of expired meat products being served among global restaurant chains operating within China. The news of the expired meat originated on China’s Dragon TV Network. By now, many of our readers, particularly within consumer products and food service environments have read of these ongoing developments, along with consumer, regulatory and industry reactions.
Well-known brands such as McDonald’s, Yum Brands (operators of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut) and Burger King were named by both media and Chinese food regulatory agencies for offering such expired meat products to customers. The expired chicken and beef meat products were traced by restaurant operators to food supplier Shanghai Husi Food Company, which is affiliated with U.S. based OSI Group, a $6 billion producer of food products. OSI itself has garnered what is reported to be a solid reputation as a quality focused food supplier.
According to published reports, the Chinese based distributor Shanghai Husiallegedly re-labeled the meat products with new expiration dates after the original date had passed. Chinese authorities quickly detained five people as a result of these incidents. The Shanghai Food and Drug Administration later concluded that the violations were not the result of an individual but rather the result of an organized effort by the Chinese distributor, which is a serious charge. However, reports seem to indicate that the practice may have been limited to a single Shanghai Husi processing facility.
The CEO of OSI Group was quick to issue a public apology for the actions of its China based subsidiary. That statement begins: “What happened at Husi Shanghai is completely unacceptable. I will not try and defend it or explain it. It was terribly wrong, and I am appalled that it ever happened in the company that I own.” The distributor further pointed out that Chinese authorities inspected other facilities across China and found no issues. The supplier further dispatched a team of its own global experts to ensure that the problem is addressed and corrected.
Yum Brands took quick action by terminating OSI as its supplier in China Australia and the U.S… Burger King suspended all orders from the Chinese distributor. But something different is occurring with McDonalds.
Initially, McDonalds CEO issued a statement indicating that the chain was misled by its Chinese supplier and cut its ties with that supplier. But on Friday, the Wall Street Journal published an article (paid subscription or free metered view) indicating that the chain would stand by OSI Group, its loyal supplier for over 59 years. According to the WSJ, the supply agreement dates back to 1955 when founder Ray Kroc was looking to expand across the United States and now supplies up to 85 percent of McDonald’s global locations. OSI has been instrumental in supporting McDonald’s global expansion and reportedly helping the chain to maintain consistent quality standards. As noted, OSI is not just a supplier to McDonalds but to many other global customers. In 2011, this supplier was cited in a quality award by McDonalds for supply activities both in the U.S. and Asia. According to the WSJ, in 2013 food distributor Sysco cited the supplier with its “Gold Supplier” award.
By Thursday of last week, McDonalds decided to retain OSI as its global supplier, utilizing other OSI owned factories within China. A statement issued to the WSJ stated: “We will not walk away from the issue but we are committed to resolving it.”
Supply Chain Matters has a two-fold reaction to these events. First and foremost, any food supplier that resorts to illegal product classification practices deserves the consequences of such actions. On the other hand, a supplier that has garnered years of experience as a quality focused and rock solid supplier deserves the opportunity for the facts to come out and to take action to totally correct any deficiencies.
In this era of instantaneous response and 7 by 24 news cycles, it becomes all too convenient to throw a supplier “under the bus” of negative publicity. Loyalty to a long-standing business relationship seems to be a fleeting principle. Of course, a global restaurant services provider with such a dependency on a single supplier will often find it difficult to quickly source alternative suppliers. One could argue that that might have led to the McDonald’s response.
However, kudos to McDonald’s management for taking a step back and giving its long-time supplier the benefit of the doubt with the opportunity to get to the facts and resolve the issue (s). A long history as trusted supplier deserves some consideration.