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Toyota plans changes in U.S. to improve quality

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Toyota plans changes in U.S. to improve quality

Hans Greimel

Automotive News -- February 9, 2010 - 12:27 pm ET

TOKYO -- Toyota Motor Corp. is still rolling out fresh recalls, but the carmaker’s quality chief says the company already is working on U.S. overhauls to catch more problems before they escalate.

The goal is to streamline the collection of field complaints from customers and create more teams of engineers who can speed to trouble spots and root out brewing quality glitches.

“Information gathering is something we want to advance much further,” Executive Vice President Shinichi Sasaki said today at a press conference to announce the recall of 437,000 hybrids, including the popular Prius, on four continents.

“We could perhaps take speedier action,” Sasaki said.

Toyota already is working with information technology companies to develop a better U.S. database to register and share customer complaint information, he said. The company also wants to establish at least five more regional technical analysis centers where Toyota engineers can trouble-shoot local problems as they arise, Sasaki said.

Nipping problems in the bud is crucial to reducing the risks of huge global recalls such as the ones currently engulfing Toyota. Since last fall, the company has recalled 8.5 million vehicles to address complaints about unintended acceleration and braking glitches.

Today’s hybrid recall aims to address complaints that the brakes in the Prius momentarily slip.

Critics have accused Toyota of dragging its feet on some of the recalls. The company counters that it would have acted sooner but lacked early tip-offs from the field that trouble was brewing.

Sasaki said the vast size of the U.S. market makes it much more difficult to manage and share customer complaints than in the home market of Japan. Toyota needs a more advanced network for U.S. dealers to report complaints back to the company, he said.

Toyota’s U.S. operations also need more regional engineering teams to respond to dealer and customer complaints and travel on site to conduct technology analysis.

Today, Toyota has only three such offices: in Los Angeles, Cincinnati and New York.

“Just getting information doesn’t lead to action,” Sasaki said. “We would want to increase the locales and have maybe five more locales where we could do technical analysis on site.”

Sasaki said the company already has potential locations but didn’t identify them.

Read more: http://www.autonews.com/article/20100209/OEM01/100209855/1147#ixzz0f4s9nWLn

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