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Friday, March 26, 2010

Toyota creates team for U.S. quality and recalls

Toyota's North America production and engineering company said today it has formed a Quality Task Force to help restore Toyota's quality reputation.

A key part of it: asserting U.S. consumer interests on future safety recall issues.

The U.S. group will be headed up by Steve St. Angelo, executive vice president of Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America Inc. in Erlanger, Ky.

Dino Triantafyllos, vice president of quality in Erlanger, has been given the task of improving how Toyota manages product safety issues.

The move is part of Toyota Motor Corp. CEO Akio Toyoda's efforts to regroup in the wake of a massive global product recall and U.S. Congressional hearings into Toyota safety problems.

Toyota's handling of consumer concerns was a hot issue during government hearings on the recalls this month. Congressmen, as well as litigants now involved in several consumer lawsuits against Toyota, have claimed that Toyota knew of U.S. problems with unintended acceleration in some models long before taking action to correct them.

Triantafyllos has been tasked with speeding up safety-related discussions through Toyota in North America, improving the way Toyota addresses them and playing a “key role in decision-making with regard to recalls,” according to a statement released today by Toyota in Erlanger.

Handling complaints

During this month's Congressional hearings, Toyota was chided for the way North American safety complaints were handled. Senior Toyota officials acknowledged that all recall decisions were made in Japan and that U.S. executives had no authority to order recalls.

“The aim of our new quality task force is to assure that all of us in North America listen and respond to the voice of the customer,” Triantafyllos said in the statement. “My primary responsibility is to assure that we utilize all of the data at our disposal and that we promptly decide the appropriate action.”

St. Angelo met today with presidents from all of Toyota's North American vehicle and parts operations at Toyota's Georgetown, Ky., assembly plant, where he holds the additional title of president.

He will fly this weekend to Japan, where on March 30 Akio Toyoda will convene a newly created Special Committee for Global Quality. St. Angelo has been tapped to represent all North American quality improvements for the committee, which reports directly to Toyoda.

Toyoda's mandate

“The new organization will open the lines of communication globally and enable us to respond faster here in North America to any concerns about our vehicles,” St. Angelo said in the statement.

“In keeping with Akio Toyoda's mandate, North America will have greater autonomy and play a critical role in decision making on recalls and other safety issues.”

The company's Erlanger task force also will work with former U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater. Slater was asked this month to lead a separate and independent North American Quality Advisory Panel to advise St. Angelo and the Kentucky group on improvements. Slater and Toyota will appoint other members to the outside panel.

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