Toyota Motor Corp <7203.T>, reeling from a recall crisis, launched a task force on Tuesday aimed at regaining consumer trust and pledged to give more clout to its regional operations to speed up decisions on quality issues.
Toyota President Akio Toyoda, who was criticized for not acting quickly enough when the automaker's safety issues first came to light earlier this year, convened a 50-member committee on quality at the automaker's headquarters.
It marked the first meeting of Toyota's newly named regional quality officers and came at a crucial time as the world's largest automaker attempts to recapture lost sales momentum in key markets including the United States.
We need a renewed commitment to placing customers first and to reviewing all our work processes from the customers' perspective, Toyoda, who chairs the committee, said ahead of the quality meeting.
In a departure from past practice, chief quality officers assigned in six designated regions will have a say when headquarters makes decisions on safety issues, in an effort to better reflect customer needs gleaned in local markets.
We are counting on the new framework to optimize our decision-making both regionally and globally, Toyoda told a news conference after the meeting.
Third-party experts in each region, including one in North America headed by former U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater, will assess the steps Toyota has taken to renew its focus on quality and safety. The initial review results are due to be released in June, Toyota said.
The world's biggest automaker has recalled some 8.5 million vehicles globally in recent months. Those recalls take aim at accelerator pedals that can become stuck with condensation, pedals that can be held down by floormats and a braking glitch on its latest Prius and other new hybrids.
The quality slippage has highlighted the pressure on Toyota's stretched work force as it scrambled to keep up with soaring demand for its popular cars in the past decade.
To reverse the fall in quality, Toyota said it would strengthen information-gathering capabilities at the local level when suspected problems arise.
Over the last few months, we really learned that we were not close enough to the customers, Toyoda said.
In the United States, for example, a team of specially trained technicians will conduct on-site inspections as promptly as possible when quality or safety issues arise, Toyota said.
Toyota will also expand the use in North America of event data recorders, which can record data on vehicle condition and driver operations, and work with authorities in other markets to better analyze the causes of accidents.
In other measures, Toyota will increase the number of technology offices in North America to seven from one, establish seven offices in Europe, six in China and more elsewhere.
It will also set up Customer First training centres in North America, Europe, Southeast Asia and China by July to supplement the function in Japan.
The global quality committee will meet twice a year.