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Case Study 1

Case Study 1


For the Week 7 Case Study, you will review the case below on Toyota and answer the questions that follow.

Case Study:

You may be familiar with the problems that have recently plagued Toyota. However, you may not know the whole story. First the facts. In 2010 Toyota issued a series of recalls for various models. The most serious was for a defect called “unintended acceleration,” which occurs when a car accelerates with no apparent input from the driver. Investigations revealed that unintended acceleration in Toyota cars has been the cause of 37 deaths since 2000. When the problems first surfaced, however, Toyota denied it was the cause. Eventually, Toyota apologized and recalled more than 9 million cars.

To many, the root cause of Toyota’s problems was its insular, arrogant culture. Fortune argued: “Like GM before it, Toyota has gotten smug. It believes the Toyota Way is the only way.” Time reported, “A Toyota management team that had fallen in love with itself and become too insular to properly handle something like the current crisis.” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood described Toyota’s culture as “safety-deaf.”

But is this the reality? Increasingly, evidence suggests that Toyota’s culture—or even the cars it produces—is not the source of the problem.

A 2011 report released by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) concluded that unintended acceleration was not caused by problems in the electronic circuitry. The Wall Street Journal wrote that “safety regulators, human-error experts and auto makers say driver error is the primary cause of sudden acceleration.” Forbes and The Atlantic commented that incidents of sudden acceleration in Toyota cars occurred with elderly drivers, and elderly drivers are known to be more prone to confusing pedals. Many other independent investigations, including ones conducted by automobile experts at Popular Mechanics and Car and Driver, reached the same conclusion: the main cause of unintended acceleration was drivers mistaking the gas pedal for the brake pedal.

In June 2013, another round of recalls rocked Toyota and again involved the braking systems, this time affecting 242,000 Prius hybrid models. Automotive analyst Neil King cautions against inferring that Toyota is a troubled company, however. “Recalls seem to be so commonplace these days, I don’t see it having any major impact…they are not the only ones affected. There was a period when it seemed to be only Toyota.”  

Does Toyota have an insular and inbred corporate culture? Probably. But it’s been that way for a long time, and it’s far from clear that its organizational culture is responsible for failures in the increasingly complex technological systems in today’s cars.

  1. If Toyota is not the cause of unintended acceleration, why was it blamed for it?
  2. Is it possible to have a strong—even arrogant— culture and still produce safe and high-quality vehicles?
  3. If you were the CEO of Toyota when the story was first publicized, how would you have reacted?

It is not sufficient to state your opinions alone; you must be able to backup your responses by applying concepts from the text with the case data that supports your findings.  Expected response length is 3 sentences per question.  Please restate the question you are answering in your case study.

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