After an embarrassing flurry of recalls that threaten to tarnish its reputation for quality, Toyota has decided to become more flexible in its product-development pace.
If the chief engineer of a new-vehicle program needs extra time to ensure quality, he will get it, CEO Katsuaki Watanabe said last week. But he denied a Wall Street Journal report that Toyota will lengthen all product-development programs by three to six months to allow additional quality tests.
That would be a marked change for a company that has prided itself on how fast it can get vehicles to market. At an early-1990s seminar on doing business with Japanese carmakers, an executive for a U.S. supplier warned a roomful of his peers, "You never, ever, ever want to be responsible for delaying a Toyota new-product program."
Now, however, after a string of image-denting recalls at home and abroad, Watanabe says Toyota will grant deadline extensions to engineers for quality issues case by case. "If the engineer thinks he needs another one or two months to ensure the chassis quality or to complete testing of a car's electronics, he will get it," he says.
He spoke Friday at a briefing on Toyota's safety technologies.