Toyota Report Only Matters If Changes are Made

2010 Toyota Prius
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2010 Toyota Prius

So Toyota's independent North American Quality Advisory Panel, led by former Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater has reached some conclusions after looking into the unintended acceleration crisis and recalls from late 2009 and early 2010.

The conclusion won't surprise you: Toyota's Japan-centric management structure was one of many factors that contributed to the crisis.

The other headline from the panel: there's no proof electronics played a role in causing unintended acceleration.

Both findings, and others by the panel, confirm what many have suspected, and in some cases Toyota has admitted, about the lack of quality control by the Japanese automaker. This is why the real value in the panel's report is not the conclusions, but whether Toyota will truly make changes to correct the problem. I say truly because Toyota has already vowed to de-centralize its decision making process. Now CEO Akio Toyoda has to show his company is changing.

I think Mr. Toyoda is sincere in his desire to make Toyota more nimble, responsive, and more focused on quality. That's fantastic. But the reality is that restoring quality will take more than just the conviction of the CEO. It will take all of Toyota getting back to doing what made it so popular, building quality cars. It will take a re-newed focus on reliability.

It's not as if Toyota's quality has plummeted. In quality survey's the company is still among the leaders in the auto business. But it's no longer way ahead of the pack. And it's heading in the wrong direction. While Ford has dramatically improved its quality, Toyota's has slipped. Can they turn it around? Yes, but it won't happen overnight.

That's the true value of this report. Will Akio Toyoda and his top leaders use it as a blueprint to fix the company? Or will it be a report that symbolizes the start of a slide in quality that severely damaged the world's largest auto maker.

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