Remember a year or so ago when GM and Chrysler were teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and debate raged – as it still does – over federal involvement in the filings? Would either have survived without the government’s help, or would they have been liquidated? And if one or both had ceased to exist, where would the automotive industry (not to mention the U.S. economy) be now? How many suppliers would have followed GM or Chrysler down the tubes?
Now add Toyota’s troubles to the mix. I hope Toyota can pinpoint their reliability issues accurately, fix them quickly, and begin to restore consumer confidence. I hate to see them take such a hit, just as the industry is starting to recover, but things could have been a lot worse if Toyota’s troubles had followed the demise of a major U.S. OEM.
The Toyota story is unfolding as we speak, but lessons are already apparent. A big one concerns crisis management – don’t try to hide – and it looks like Honda, with its airbag recall, has been taking notes. Then there’s the axiom that it’s way cheaper to fix a problem during development than it is once the product is in the field.
So, what can be said or learned about the way automakers build cars? Toyota is a strong proponent of model-based development. Should its tools and procedures have been able to uncover any and all potential problems in the lab prior to manufacturing? As much as we’d like to think so, that’s probably not realistic; at least not yet. Engineering depends upon deep scientific knowledge, but also upon human ingenuity. Let’s not pass judgment until we know more about Toyota fixes, but let’s also pay close attention to the quality of the system modeling and application development tools we give our engineers. Lives depend on them.