If automotive manufacturers think that they’ve achieved pinnacles of quality just because it’s rare to see broken-down cars by the roadside these days, they need to think again.
Hardly a month goes by without the announcement of yet another automotive recall affecting hundreds of thousands of vehicles. Air bags, seat belts, electrical wiring—the defective systems and subsystems that trigger the recalls vary widely, but they are all symptoms of a serious problem that pervades the automotive supply chain: widespread failures of quality assurance.
The numbers tell the story. Among the major global OEMs alone, total recalls have increased in every decade of the last 30 or more years, rising from around 700 recall campaigns that affected roughly 700,000 units in the 1980s to more than 1,300 such campaigns that affected 13 million vehicles in the first decade of this century. Even Toyota, a company long noted for quality and reliability, has seen its recall rates climbing steeply. The recalls have not only inflicted significant reputational damage on the OEMs and their suppliers, but they have also exposed automotive companies to billions of dollars in liability.
In today’s high-pressure environment, with record numbers of product launches, increasingly demanding customers, and constant scrutiny through social media, OEMs and suppliers can no longer afford to wait and react to the next quality problem. Now is the time for them to get ahead of these problems and transform quality into a source of competitive advantage. If cost pressures don’t spur them to action, regulators such as the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration—itself stung by public criticism, given the numbers of recalls—certainly will.