Within the lean world there are some huge movers and shakers. Companies and organisations that have always been there, waving their lean flag and standing as a
benchmark for others to aspire to. Perched on top of this pile is arguably, the holy grail of lean companies – Toyota.

The huge number of books, articles and case studies written about the beloved Toyota Production System and the way the company has completely engrained lean practices into its production line throughout its recent history has made it one of the most trusted companies in terms of its customers.

But how does this loyal customer base react when a few chinks are exposed in the Toyota armour? In September, both Toyota and Nissan had to withdraw massive numbers of their vehicles due to faulty parts. Nissan recalled almost 1 million of its vehicles due to a fault with an accelerator sensor, hastening to assure that no accidents had occurred due to the fault. Toyota on the other hand admitted it knew of 24 “minor accidents” as a result of the automation transmission on its Sienna minivan being able to shift out of park mode without the driver depressing the brake as is usually required. This resulted in the manufacturer recalling 615,000 of the vehicles from the United States. Not to mention the further 718,000 Toyota vehicles recalled from the US earlier that month.

Despite the obvious safety concerns, this also raises questions about the state of the Toyota Production System. If a faulty piece has managed to find its way into more than 1 million Toyota vehicles, what has (or perhaps, hasn’t) happened along the company’s supply chain and why why isn’t the same obsession for detail being carried out across it? And furthermore, how has this major incident impacted the trust the company has spent so long establishing with its enormous international customer base?