ACME, Michigan (Bloomberg) -- Toyota Motor Corp. said its quality advisory panel will share initial recommendations next week as the company evaluates its North American suppliers.
“We're going to discuss what we've been doing, and they're going to tell us what they've seen and give us their initial thoughts, things we should consider,” Steve St. Angelo, chief quality officer and executive vice president for North America, said in an interview at an automotive conference in Acme, Michigan.
Panel members have expressed some concern about how Toyota ensures that its quality and safety standards are upheld as the company expands its base of suppliers in North America, St. Angelo said.
Toyota is trying to improve its cars and trucks following recalls of more than 8 million vehicles worldwide in the past year for defects linked to unintended acceleration. In the U.S., those recalls prompted congressional hearings and a record $16.4 million fine.
The company has repaired more than 80 percent of U.S. vehicles recalled for acceleration- related flaws and other problems, St. Angelo said.
The outside quality panel, led by former Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater, visited Toyota facilities in Japan and the U.S., its technical center in Michigan and dealerships, St. Angelo said. The group has watched crash tests, driven recalled cars and observed chief engineers interacting with suppliers.
Midway through testing
Toyota is midway through testing its manufacturing process and vehicle parts, something typically done when a model is introduced and only periodically thereafter, St. Angelo said.
The panel is now going to suppliers of parts that control vehicles' movement, fuel and steering, and putting them through that same initial product-introduction checklist.
“We need to go back and re-ensure that they understood what the requirements are,” St. Angelo said. “There were shortcomings in that verification process. We're going back and revalidating everything.”
The panel hasn't found any “showstoppers,” though some suppliers' equipment needs to be maintained better, St. Angelo said.
So far the company, suppliers and dealers have been working hard to regain customer confidence, said St. Angelo, who also is president of Toyota's plants in Georgetown, Kentucky. “We won't stop until we do,” he said.
UAW and Toyota
St. Angelo said the company would “abide by all the laws” in terms of letting organizers from the United Auto Workers solicit Toyota production employees to join the union.
“It's not up to us if our members unionize, it's up to our team members,” he told reporters. The UAW has “held many rallies at our plants, but only very few people show up.”
Bob King, president of the UAW, said in June that organizing U.S. workers of Toyota and Honda Motor Co. is his “No. 1 priority.”
UAW organizers aren't likely to be let into Toyota factories to discuss union membership with workers, St. Angelo said. “Our team members like it the way it is, and quite frankly I like it too,” he said.