Blog: Dave LeggettParts commonality bites Toyota back

Dave Leggett | 8 February 2010

It wasn't so long ago that Toyota's progress seemed rather relentless. The company posted one set of record results after another. There has been something of a rude awakening lately on quality.

Maybe the firm has tried to grow a little too quickly. And there have been pressures to cut back on cost – which perhaps partly explains what has been going on with the recall.

One of the striking things about Toyota's accelerator pedal problem is just how many vehicles are affected. The component is common across many Toyota models globally.

That's how you get cost down, by employing vast scale economies on parts like that which can be described as 'commodities' – a part of the vehicle that is unseen and makes no difference to the end-product in terms of customer perception. It doesn't need to be specified differently according to model, as an interior trim component that the customer sees and feels might be. The lower the cost, the better.

That's all fine and dandy when there are no problems with the component or its design. But if anything goes wrong, the commonality of supply that got the unit-cost of the part so low becomes a double-edged sword: the fallout is wide.

I would guess that some other manufacturers are looking on with mixed feelings. Yes, they are probably feeling that Toyota taking a hit like this one provides a market opportunity for them, at least in the short-term. But they may also like to reflect on the dangers of global sourcing and scale economies.

The pressures for 'cost-down' have never been as big as they are these days and Toyota's experience provides a warning on the risks that come with that.

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