Did Lean Manufacturing Contribute to Toyota Recall?

Ann All

A column by the Toronto Star's David Olive makes an interesting point about Toyota, the automaker which recently suspended production at five of its North American factories due to problems with sticking accelerator pedals in several of its most popular vehicles. While Japanese competitor Honda is known for its engineering expertise, and competitors like BMW are known for their stylish design, Toyota's reputation has been based almost solely on the quality of its vehicles.

Toyota's vehicles have dominated J.D. Power and Associates' annual studies of vehicle quality, which in 2008 helped Toyota overtake General Motors to become the world's biggest automaker. Many articles that have appeared in the wake of Toyota's recall of millions of vehicles imply that Toyota's desire to overtake GM contributed to its problems. But a Wall Street Journal article says lean manufacturing, a concept pioneered by Toyota and since emulated by many automakers and other manufacturers, also contributed to Toyota's travails. That's interesting, since many folks credit lean with helping Toyota build its reputation for quality.


The overriding principle of lean is centered around reducing waste, and two common ways Toyota and other automakers have done so is by using common parts and designs across multiple product lines and reducing the number of suppliers in order to procure parts in greater scale. Those these practices do help reduce waste, they also introduce risk. And not just for Toyota. The WSJ cites a recall of 4.5 million Ford vehicles in which a common component used across different models played a big part.


Standardizing parts and consolidating suppliers are likely to become even more common strategies as companies look to cut costs and boost efficiencies to make up for sales declines. The WSJ article notes that Sony last year created a new division to handle company-wide procurement and decided to cut its number of suppliers by more than half, measures the company says will save it 500 billion yen (US$5.5 billion). Panasonic has standardized parts across products for years to reduce costs, a practice that led to one of its biggest product recalls ever in 2007.


Why don't more companies incorporate risk management into their long-term strategies? IT Business Edge's Lora Bentley in November wrote about an Accenture study that found only about half of companies include risk management in their strategic planning efforts. Just 27 percent make risk management part of their objective-setting or performance-management processes.


In another post, Lora mentioned that creating a chief risk officer position is becoming a best practice, especially for large and highly-regulated companies. Others that haven't appointed chief risk officers are asking their CFOs to focus more on risk. I'd assume that weighing financial gains against risk would be a big part of those jobs.


Yoshinori Iizuka, a University of Tokyo engineering professor and former head of the Japanese Society for Quality Control, a research group studying quality-management technology, in the WSJ article advises companies to emphasize good design and adequate testing to minimize quality-control problems resulting from widely used parts. And if a problem arises, companies need to employ a manufacturing-management system to pinpoint and identify the issue, something that Toyota doesn't seem to have done with the malfunctioning accelerators.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jan 31, 2010 12:39 PM Aza Badurdeen Aza Badurdeen  says:

No doubt Toyota is not heading into a good period. Using common parts can increase the number of units recalled if there is a problem with one of its common components just like in this scenario. But I believe using common parts will reduce the cost and the risk of low quality products. Lean manufacturing in this regard needs to be praised. If we continue to use specialized parts for  each model, we might have frequent recalls, but in small quantities. We will  pay more for a product of low quality.

But I agree, there has to be even more tight controls on  quality of products, especially the ones which are critical for the safety.

Feb 1, 2010 4:47 PM Frank Nagy Frank Nagy  says:

I was president of one of the first thirteen American companies to be taught the Toyota Production System (TPS) in the U.S. Of interest to me is the person(s) writing this article have not identified exactly how TPS contributed to the problem. I was taught early in my career, as most manufacturing people are, to gather and analyse data before drawing conclusions.

Frank Nagy

Feb 2, 2010 11:32 AM Kal Valakuzhy Kal Valakuzhy  says:

The primary assertion of this article is that standardization leads to poor quality and recalls.  There is no evidence to support this.  Standardization of components and parts is not a new concept.  It has been practiced across many industrial sectors for decades.  Bolts, nuts, spark plugs, tires, batteries are examples in a long list of components standardized across many makes and models of cars in varying degrees.  In electronics industry, resistors, capacitors, ICs, connectors and numerous other components are standardized.  A 2x4 purchased in California is interchangeable with a 2x4 purchased in New York, thanks to standardization in construction.  Standardized currency bills and coins allow us to use them in any of the millions of vending machines in US.  Universal use of credit cards is based on standardization of its physical as well as software attributes.  In fact, where the industrialized world is today is because of standardization. 

Practice of Toyota Production System or Lean Manufacturing does not lead to poor quality; otherwise Toyota could not have maintained the quality levels they did for so long.  Obviously, something broke down in their process that led to the failures of the accelerator pedals.  It will take careful analysis of the failures, not speculation, to understand what went wrong.  Hopefully, Toyota will address the issue quickly and completely to protect its customers from any further risks.  In the meantime, unsubstantiated condemnation of Toyota Production System and Lean as the root of all evil is neither useful nor warranted.  

Feb 2, 2010 7:35 PM P Mills P Mills  says:

While conceptually Lean sounds great, Toyota seems to have short-changed themselves by being over-ambitious, ignored the very tenets of the concept that made them a toast of quality buffs and taken the short cut that 'muri' frowns upon. They ought to work their way back up by revising procurement practices and most importantly, rigorous and extensive testing of components that go into their products.

Toyota ought to learn this important lesson: what makes you has within it the seed to also break you.

Feb 3, 2010 9:26 AM Joan - auto worker Joan - auto worker  says:

Quality does not mean perfect. The design faults happen everywhere, including NASA space program and missile. We call it "reliability". I am sure there are many safety component design faults in Big 3 or German companies. Also there are much more manufacturing quality faults too.

Toyota's problem is that they didn't treat this severe safety design fault properly, as so called risk management. If as media said, this problem has found years ago, they didn't fix the problem and just tried to cover problem. That will be non-forgivable.

Now, it is not time just blaming Toyota. Recall is only negative action. People should find out some way to prevent this types problems from being covered by manufacturers.

Feb 4, 2010 7:37 PM Don Dillabough Don Dillabough  says:

What is the problem here.  I took both of my cars

to 90 K full throttle, then while holding down the accelerator

I "EASILY" stopped my Suzuki and My AWD Astro van.

This proves that the cause of the issue was a defective

part but the cause of the accidents were 100% ignorance

of the person behind the wheel.  Lighten up on TMMC, they

build a great car.  Boy how many people were burned to

death in Ford Pintos, or Late 60's GM's that had weak

engine mounts, that when they broke opened up a

300 Hp monster "THAT I TO STOP".  It was easy and

safely executed. The problem here

is the media, they are making it look like the cars had

brake failure right after a gas pedal malfunction.  Too

bad for the folks that died, the deaths were not caused by

TMMC it was caused by ...   Ignorance.  It's up to the

Ministry to train us to drive, they just forgot to show us

how to stop.  Give TMMC a bailout, they deserve it more than

the bloody CAW workers I am now supporting with my

tax dollars.  What a joke this has all turned into, my wife

works for TMMC and she's a better worker than any CAW

worker on the face of this earth.  And you ship jumpers, glad

your not on my team, you wouldn't make the cut, go by

a Hyundai or a Ford made in Brazil and be happy your hard

earned dollars are buiding cars offshore

Feb 5, 2010 8:41 PM User:24680 User:24680  says:

Lean is about reducing costs.  The current recall problems at Toyota are not due to their manufacturing system; it was a design failure.  The bigger problem may be leadership, if passing the buck onto a supplier that must have been producing parts to specifications; how else could so many bad parts pass though Toyota's rigid system?  If you want to learn about lean manufacturing read the book the Japanese read ~ 'My Life and Work' by Henry Ford.  1922.  "The big thing is the article, not the factory." - Ford.  p.s. I own a Toyota Sienna, and no Ford products.

Feb 8, 2010 3:32 PM D.W D.W  says:

I see Lean Manufacturing practices lowering the quality of the batteries we poduce in our well known battery factory. Long standing practices of aging, inspecting are being bypassed to reduce production times. Too many temp employees with poor traing replacing long term full timers who know what there doing. It's just a matter of time before we are hit with a battery recall. I'll bet on that.

Feb 9, 2010 6:45 PM User:87655 User:87655  says: in response to Don Dillabough

"THAT I TO STOP"....what?  Don, you're an idiot.  Just because you did some half-wit experiment with your Astro Van and Suzuki, that makes anyone dead or injured due to the Toyota accelerator issue "ignorant?"  So what about Ford Pintos and GM engine mounts?  People died then, so it's okay that people die now from Toyota products?  Nobody cares that your wife works for Toyota.

Feb 11, 2010 5:43 PM Erin Erin  says:

Maybe Americans will see that American automobile industries DO make a quality car after all. It is a shame that we have thousands of jobs leaving this country, thousands laid off, yet Americans still support foreign companies. Toyota is not the best quality car. It is about time American's take care of American's and buy American products.

Stop buying foreign products and take care of our own country. I have visited many Toyota plants, worked for American auto industry and I would never spend my American money on a foreign car!

Feb 15, 2010 3:30 PM Kerry Kerry  says: in response to Erin

Yeah right!! American cars are junk, my husband bought a brand new Ford in 2002 which was the same year I bought a brand new Honda. To date, my car has 42,000 miles more than his and his car has cost us a whole lot more in repairs. It is an unreliable piece of crap, and will be replaced by a Honda in the coming months!!!! Neither of us will ever buy Ford again, and I would think twice before buying a Chevy or Dodge.

Feb 17, 2010 6:47 PM Jamie Flinchbaugh Jamie Flinchbaugh  says:

I do think the title is a bit irresponsible. I understanding asking the question, but we don't even know the cause and effect of the defect itself.

I have been resisting writing about the Toyota case because so little is actually know about the defect itself, and cause and effect isn't clear. But I have been getting enough questions about it. I don't think this changes anything about Toyota's success. They still have dramatically fewer recalls than others. And of course no one that knows lean would say they were anything close to perfect.

I did write up some of my thoughts and lessons in observing the story on my blog here: http://jamieflinchbaugh.com/2010/02/the-fall-of-the-mighty-toyota/

Feb 23, 2010 4:05 PM Mike Mike  says:

I am wondering if anyone thought about the possibility of bad capacitors in the electronic circuitry. Dell had to replace a massive number of subcontracted motherboards with subcontracted capacitors that were very defective. You don't suppose Toyota's  (U.S.) subcontractor got bad capacitors off the open market? Just a thought. 

Feb 24, 2010 10:46 AM JFK JFK  says:

'TOYOTA' The manufacturing sacrificial sacrifice. Complaints of deaths due to sudden acceleration in Toyota cars, like the Audi that went 0-60MPH at a turn of a key that involved death and injury, I don't recall any apologies from Audi. Recalls aren't new take a look: http://wwwapps.tc.gc.ca/saf-sec-sur/7/vrdb-bdrv/search/search.aspx?lang=e Ford 1419 recalls, Chrysler 309 recalls, Cadillac's alone 190 recalls Toyota 139 recalls; and them with out sin cast the first stone. Domestic(?) auto makers now push to produce everywhere but north America, Toyota and Honda with plants in US and Canada are turning more domestic then Ford, Chrysler or GM who just opened a new line in Asia. "Domestic" means production that takes place within the country's borders (Wikipedia). http://twitter.com/economicblow

Apr 27, 2010 7:44 PM Jim Brown Jim Brown  says:

Can you tell me the date that the lean manufacturing article appeared in the Wall Street Journal? I am trying to get a copy of the article.

I am referencing your comment "But a Wall Street Journal article says lean manufacturing, a concept pioneered by Toyota and since emulated by many automakers and other manufacturers, also contributed to Toyota's travails."


Apr 27, 2010 7:51 PM Ann All Ann All  says: in response to Jim Brown


The article is dated Jan 30, 2010. I don't know whether it appeared in both print and online versions or just online. If you have trouble accessing the full WSJ article, try typing the title into Google search. Hope this helps!

May 24, 2010 11:40 AM used transmission used transmission  says:

Toyota needs to improve its bad condition on the market and also need to give a great attention to the security and quality of automobiles.


Jul 5, 2010 6:12 PM Nick Nick  says: in response to Don Dillabough

You are truly a very ignorant individual. The deaths were absolutely and completely 100% caused by Toyota and not a single driver. If you understood the very basics or root cause analysis you would have found the root cause of these deaths were due to a very defective product 'Toyota' and had absolutely nothing to do with driver knowledge. What you're trying to say, it seems, is Toyota should have provided an instruction book detailing every possible defect that could happen with their product and the customer should have studied it to know what to do 'in case' one of these many defects happened.

They really shouldn't let people post here that have absolutely no education or common knowledge.

Oct 8, 2010 6:00 PM Redditch tyres Redditch tyres  says:

Toyota has spent most of past 12 months under the microscope amid reports, and subsequent investigations, into issues related to unintended acceleration.

Oct 26, 2010 9:00 AM DOn DOn  says: in response to Nick

nick, nick, nick.  Please stay off my roads.  Are you that simple

that you can't see more than 1/2 the idiots on the roads shouldn't

be there.  Ignorance and stupidity are two different things. A 100hp

Toyota motor can easily be stopped in an emergency.  Stupidity

or ignorance.  Neither one are TMMC's fault, but the fault of  the

driver. I have an Astro Van, 12 years old and a brake line failed.

Oh my what to do....  I figured it out.  And GM should be responsible.

those brake lines should last forever, PERIOD.  Stick your head in the

ground and stay off my roads.  STUPDITY caused the accident, nothing

else. As for my education, Grade 12 honour student, best in trade school

finishing with 98% Average. I am a computor technician, and an

Auto Mechanic.  Your grabbing at straws stupid, stay off my roads

as I think you would be the one to say "oh no my pedal is stuck. What

to do, call 911, try and drive it"  Oooop's too late your dead

Nov 17, 2010 4:17 PM toyota parts toyota parts  says:

When it comes to engineering and structure, toyota has nothing to say with Honda and BMW. Toyota however has the quality...Yeah, there were complains from few costumers about the toyota vehicles. But then, it does not mean these stuffs are invaluable. Two years ago, I brought Toyota corrola. To be honest, the car wasn't that new but the whole structure is working well. I had upgraded some parts and the appearance was the same as the new one...

Nov 17, 2010 5:44 PM toyota parts toyota parts  says:

Toyota definitely need more testings to improve the structures of vehicles. Also, they have to upgrade some parts and ensure its safety. I have a corrola way back in 2000. Luckily, I and my family were not a victim of the said issue.

Dec 13, 2010 7:55 PM Moldtruth Moldtruth  says:

Toyota Dealership in Poway California attempts to silence and restrain injured workers exposed to toxic mold while working at the southern  California Toyota dealership. To view pictures of toxic mold and read reports please visit www.moldtruth.wordpress.com

Feb 10, 2011 11:07 AM victor victor  says:

To say that Lean contributed to Toyotas quality problems is just irrational. Why? because 60 years practicing Lean have taken Toyota from being a minuscule Japanese company in the 50s to number one in the World now.

More likely, Toyotas problems have been caused by going a bit soft on Lean and perhaps betraying one of its core principles "quality before quantity" or perhaps "pull, not push production". Knowing Toyota a bit they are almost certain to learn from the experience. I wish GM had learn from their steady loss of market share to Toyota, right in the US, from Toyotas American plants staffed with American workers. But, how managers educated in GMs traditional view of "we are not in the business of making cars, we are in the business of making money" could understand product quality? Furthermore, how the hordes of MBAs running GM and others, educated in the sexy financial and marketing tricks Harvard and the others so well teach, could compete with managers at Toyota educated in house in the details Toyotas culture, methods, technology, products, employees, customers, etc.and having shown they had what it takes to advance by rotating through different assignments instead of of a shiny MBA diploma from Harvard.

In 1987 I bough a Buick Grand Natiobal, supposedly a performance car from GM. Yet it had the chassis that by then had dissappeared from essentially all but the cheapest European and Japanese cars. Even a number of Euroean delivery vans were more sophisticated by then. A "performance car" with a rigid rear axle!, rear drum brakes! a regular pushrod 3.8 liter engine that delivered 250 hp with turbo! I mean, the car is fun because of the huge torque at low revs, that is all. I still have it here in Europe is a head turner because I must admit in terms of pure aesthetics most US cars of the period were far more interesting than the boxes from Europe and Japan, INCLUDING Mercedes benz and BMW. Unfortunately GM managers overvalued the importance of looks.

Buying an American car then was like marrying a beautiful woman who happens to be frigid, cooks terribly, wastes the family money but loves pretending she is great in bed! (Yes, the analogy can also be rewritten to be pilitically correct, you do it!)

Sep 14, 2011 1:04 PM Toyota Parts Toyota Parts  says:

There is no safety problem using common parts but be careful that the common parts have good quality.

Sep 29, 2011 10:07 AM TPM TPM  says:

Interesting article, keep posting

Jan 29, 2013 6:45 AM Lean manufacturing Lean manufacturing  says:
If anybody wants to blame lean manufacturing for Toyota recall, i am afraid, he/she hasn't actually understood the core concepts of lean manufacturing and management. I believe that Lead still is the way to go if we want to frame problems effectively, and to formulate and test solutions for them, whether we talk about manufacturing or management. By using Lean concepts, we can efficiently establish a direction for the company’s improvement efforts and blueprints for the lean transformation. It will also help visualize improvements to the overall production flow, instead of spot improvements to single processes. By using Lean management and manufacturing, one can create the basis for an effective implementation plan by designing how a facility’s door-to-door material and information flow could operate. Lean concept gives operators, engineers, and managers a common language and process for continuous improvement. Reply
Aug 31, 2013 1:14 PM Construction Excellence Construction Excellence  says:
I don't think that the Lean Manufacturing becomes the Reason for Toyota Recall.In fact the Lean Manufacturing leaves an impact in Construction Excellence.also the Lean Manufacturing was used by Toyota.So I don't think that The Only Lean Manufacturing is the reason for recall done by the Toyota. Reply
Nov 21, 2013 7:13 AM  Lean Manufacturing Certification Lean Manufacturing Certification  says:
Toyota has maintained a high level of quality In the production, so Lean manufacturing plays most important role to give the best quality. Reply
Jul 23, 2017 3:52 AM Mold Truth Mold Truth  says:
Toxic Mold Grows in the HVAC System of New Camry's and New 4Runners due to a serious design defect in the evaporator. It also grows behind the Dash and Control Panel of new Toyota's There is currently a Class Action Lawsuit, Toyota has been aware of the problem and issuing technical advisors Reply

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