In a published Supply Chain Matters commentary in June, Service Supply Chains Put to the Ultimate Stress Test in the Automotive Industry, we focused on General Motors, which after intense scrutiny from U.S. regulators and legislators regarding faulty ignition switches among multiple models, had recalled thousands of vehicles. At that time, GM had announced a cumulative 44 product recalls involving nearly 18 million previously sold vehicles not only for faulty ignition switches but for various other lingering quality problems.
Other Automotive OEM’s have also found themselves under intense regulatory scrutiny, and many elected to err on the side of caution and declare product recalls if there were any concerns regarding vehicle or occupant safety. The result led to a Washington Post headline indicating that one out of every ten vehicles on the road had been subject to a recall notice. That amounts to a lot of motor vehicles.
Beyond the challenge of potential damage to brands and subsequent consumer brand loyalty, our primary concern in June was that automotive service and aftermarket supply chains were about to face their biggest stress test ever. The sheer numbers implied that required replacement part inventories were not going to be able to match expected demand and that inventory would have to be re-allocated or alternate suppliers would have to be sourced. Dealers and authorized repair facilities had to be very careful in scheduling service appointments and setting customer expectations regarding replacement part availability and concerns for vehicle safety.
Also included in our June commentary, was reference to reports that product recalls related to defective airbag inflators produced by supplier Takata Corp. were expected to increase after a series of investigations.
Flash forward to today, and now the sheer scope and impact of the unfolding product recalls involving defective Takata airbag inflators is approaching millions of additional vehicles and multiple other brands. U.S. regulatory agencies have raised alarms for the safety of occupants with calls for immediate attention. Web sites are swapped with consumers seeking the status of their vehicles. Business and general media have not taken the time to get the facts sorted out regarding the largest concern being potential defective airbag inflators operating in warm and humid climates. Instead, consumers from across the U.S. are forced to seek answers and demand attention as to whether their vehicle is safe to operate.
By our lens, automotive aftermarket service and parts networks have now been literally thrown under the proverbial bus.
It wasn’t their fault.
The events did not allow the planning for adequate replacement parts or analysis to the required capacity of service repair and replacement resources. The problem was thrown over the wall because quality monitoring mechanisms stalled and time had run out for planned response. Organizational interplays and CYA were probably at-play as well.
Already, OEM’s such as Toyota are trying to proactively respond to this defective air bag inflator crisis in the most realistic manner. Reports indicate that Toyota dealers are being requested to disable the potential defective airbag mechanisms of recalled vehicles and instruct vehicle owners to return when replacement parts are made available. They are doing so because of the reality of backlogged replacement parts which are substantial. In the meantime, temporary labels affixed on vehicles warn occupants of a safety hazard of not having operating airbags.
How comforting is that?
But, without adequate replacement part inventories, there are little options right now.
Service supply networks will invariably come-up with means to prioritize the most important and time sensitive parts requirements and then move on to the various other replacement part requirements to get through this crisis.
The takeaway from these ongoing unprecedented set of automotive industry product recall events is that if the business situation requires much more responsive, supply-chain wide quality monitoring mechanisms and more informed service and aftermarket spare parts networks, than provide the necessary tools and resources required to get the job done.
No doubt, there will be considerable repercussions and learning that come from these events. There will invariable be far more attention paid toward vehicle safety, regulatory safety and reporting and supply chain wide quality adherence.
In the meantime, as automotive consumers, we need to allow the time and patience for the dedicated professionals who plan and fulfill aftermarket parts and service event requirements to adequately respond to the crisis at-hand while more attention is directed toward more responsive quality management.
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