General and business media has provided much amplification of the latest product recall troubles involving General Motors. In the past few weeks GM has recalled upwards of 6.3 million vehicles globally for quality issues related to faulty ignition switches, a sudden loss of electric power-steering assistance and other issues. The incidents have once again raised issues as to why certain automotive manufacturers allow quality conformance issues regarding products to fester until consumers experience the results of such non-conformance, or in some cases suffer personal injury or death. The GM crisis has been billed as the first test of the leadership of newly appointed CEO Mary Barra, who just happens to have a supply chain, product and operations management career background prior to assuming her new top leadership role.  Indeed this latest crisis might have been the legacy handed over from previous GM CEO’s. Given Ms. Barra’s background, Supply Chain Matters has confidence that this CEO will eventually insure that GM identifies the root causes that have led to these issues, including product design flaws, organizational culture, supplier related quality conformance, conflicting performance metrics or just plain bureaucracy and overhead.

But alas, GM is not the only automotive OEM that will be skewered by general and social media. Today, Toyota announced that it was recalling upwards of 6.4 million vehicles consisting of five different product recalls. The recalls involve 27 globally based vehicle models and are reportedly prompted by defects involving seat rails, air bag cable connections, engine starters, steering column brackets and windshield wiper motors. Did we mention a repair parts crisis as well?

The latest recalls appear just a few weeks after Toyota agreed to pony-up a $1.2 billion criminal penalty settlement with the United States Justice Department after acknowledging that it misled consumers regarding unintended acceleration problems (SUA) that occurred from 2009 through 2011. In 2012, Toyota had to take a $1.1 billion charge after reaching agreements with customers over liability lawsuits related to the prior SUA incidents.

But the track record of Toyota product recalls continued after the SUA debacle. In October of 2012 Toyota announced the global recall of 7.43 million vehicles, the equivalent number involved in the SUA incidents, this time related to a master power window switch defect. At the time, The Washington Post was quick to note that this flaw “raises questions about whether Toyota Motor Corp. has solved quality and safety issues that embarrassed the company in 2009 and 2010.” Also at the time, The Financial Times indicated in its reporting that Toyota was aware of the master window switch problem as far back as four years prior. It further indicated that Toyota did not respond sooner because it was unable to replicate the root cause. Somewhat of a familiar theme to the current GM ignition switch saga.

Supply Chain Matters readers will further recall that Toyota announced a series of major organizational changes to insure that accountability for quality among its vehicles was more transparent, including the empowerment of geographic based Chief Quality Officers that had the power to investigate and correct any quality issues. Our Supply Chain Matters commentary in January 2013 called into question the cost of Toyota’s anointment as global automotive industry leader. In a Financial Times interview in 2013, Toyota Motor USA CEO Jim Lentz indicated that the company had strengthened its customer care functions and had much greater ability to analyze data related to emerging quality problems. Lentz noted Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda as urging: “Make sure that we still are built on a solid foundation of quality, reliability and value because that is the hallmark of the company.” In essence, that was the declaration of the core business value of the company.

Which of these two different OEM incidents is the more significant indicator of a systemic process issue?

From our lens, a comparison of GM’s current quality crisis pales in comparison to that of Toyota, since the global industry leader has had more time and singular senior management attention to correct systemic process issues involving product quality, whether they involved the supply chain, or Toyota’s own product design or quality conformance.

Since both of these OEM’s remain in the race for global volume leadership, the price to the brand and of consumer brand loyalty we posed in 2013 is again an open question. Each of their supply chain ecosystems will again be forced to rally and respond to crisis and disruption to insure new and revised parts are made available to dealers, distributors and assembly lines.

The race to the top invariably comes with a price, and at least two automotive supply chain ecosystems  will continue to feel the effects of the vortex.

Time for our readers to weigh in: by your view, which of these two ongoing automotive OEM quality crisis developments are the most troublesome for the industry? Share your view in either the Comments area associated to this posting, or if you prefer, email them to info <at> supply-chain-matters <dot> com.

Bob Ferrari