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Toyota's culture has blind spots, safety panel finds

LOS ANGELES — An independent review of Toyota Motor Corp. has found that the automaker suffers from deeply entrenched structural issues that could compromise safety, even though no electronic cause has been found for sudden acceleration in its vehicles.

In a strongly worded 60-page report, reviewers found that Toyota has problems differentiating quality from safety, in part because of a "well-deserved sense of pride at being No. 1" that can "slowly and subtly transform into arrogance and foster complacency."

The study was conducted by the Toyota North American Quality Advisory Panel and released Monday, slightly more than a year after the company formed the group to evaluate Toyota's safety culture in the wake of massive recalls over sudden-acceleration problems.

The panel, headed by former Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater, conducted dozens of interviews with Toyota workers, including president Akio Toyoda; academics; regulators; consumer advocates; consulting firms; and other industry experts.

Discarding the company's defense that it grew too fast, the report identified several major areas of deficiency within Toyota requiring improvement:

• A top-down management structure that limits local input about potential problems.

• Resistance to outside feedback related to the design and safety of its products.

• A failure to understand that safety problems are distinct from quality problems. (Quality refers to the execution of design and manufacturing.)

To deal with these issues, the panel recommended reforms for Toyota to consider implementing. At their heart, the recommendations focused on reforming the automaker's famed corporate philosophy, called "the Toyota Way," which dictates a policy of continuous improvement.

With that in mind, the report acknowledged numerous steps taken by Toyota to improve its corporate culture, including appointing a chief safety officer last month and making major reforms at the board level.

Toyota's culture has blind spots, safety panel finds 05/23/11 [Last modified: Monday, May 23, 2011 11:20pm]
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