Dan Gaudette, Nissan North America Inc.'s senior vice president for North American manufacturing and quality assurance, had been on the job about six weeks when the J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study rated the company's Quest minivan low for quality.
That was in April 2004. One year and 200 engineers later, the Quest finished as the most improved vehicle in the annual survey of consumer satisfaction.
Nissan attacked the problem at supplier plants, its own operations and even at dealerships.
Gaudette spoke with Staff Reporter Greg Bowens last week about how the automaker turned things around.
What did you do with your suppliers to improve quality?
We brought in our suppliers and discussed with them what we wanted to accomplish and asked for their support. We looked at their processes and their quality indicators to help them improve as well.
Were there any suppliers worse than others?
I am not going to name any individual supplier company.
They worked hand-in-glove with us to identify opportunities to improve. They put in processes to ensure that the quality of their component parts met our expectations.
But it wasn't just strictly suppliers. We had internal design changes put into place. We looked to our plants here and around the world that supply parts to us.
We identified things we could do internally to improve the manufacturing process.
We also looked to our sales and marketing organization from a distribution standpoint to find ways they could improve quality getting to the customer.
Are we talking about dealers?
Yes. It was a concerted effort to improve quality from the start of production all the way to the customers' hands. Every part of our organization played a part.
What did dealers do to help?
They changed the way vehicles were handled when they came off the carrier. They changed the way vehicles were handled in the dealership. They changed where vehicles could be parked and how they could be stored.
Factory employees lent a hand, too. Is the story about employee belt buckles scratching paint finishes during the assembly process true?
That really got blown out of proportion. We constantly monitor our work force to make sure they are not a contributing factor to damaging products.
We encourage our employees to not wear or to cover rings, belt buckles and those kinds of things that can damage a vehicle. We also focus on handling tools around products.
Scratches, dings and dents are truly a customer issue. It was not a big J.D. Power issue. At the time, we just reminded employees to follow the practices already in place to ensure the integrity of the paint.
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