Ford Motor Co. executives made a sad but telling mistake when they tried to shift the blame for lousy quality onto the backs of suppliers. Some Ford suppliers had quality problems with their manufacturing. But, inevitably, quality problems can be traced to the manufacturer, its systems and its culture.
Since the 1970s, the Big 3 have vowed to make their quality as good as Toyota's. But if the Big 3 were serious about raising their quality to Toyota's level, they would have done it by now.
Attitude and process are important.
For example, Ford, with lingering quality problems and growing warranty costs, blames its suppliers. Ford also is under terrific pressure to cut costs and has vowed to wring more price cuts from suppliers while telling them they must improve quality or lose Ford's business. The result is a Gordian knot that is difficult for Ford or its suppliers to unravel.
Toyota, which is the benchmark for quality, cuts through a problem. Toyota needed to improve the flow of tires to its assembly plants in Japan, so it got into the tire business. Now tire makers will supply Toyota on a just-in-time basis by using a manufacturing process that Toyota co-developed. Toyota will maintain quality, improve efficiency and save money.
The difference is clear. The Ford system treats quality as if it were something that can be hung on a vehicle. Toyota knows that lean manufacturing builds quality into the vehicle and saves money doing it.
It is a simple lesson, but one that Ford must take to heart.