In a June 2014 Supply Chain Matters commentary, Automotive Component Supply Strategy Meets Sensitized Regulatory Environment, we called attention to a published Reuters report indicating that product recalls involving airbags supplied by Japan based Takata Corp. would expand and involve millions of affected motor vehicles and ensnarl many global brands.
That situation has become ever more visible in a multitude of cascading product recalls and urgent consumer advisories involving many auto brands from entry-level to upscale luxury.
Today, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a high visibility consumer advisory, urging owners of over 4.7 million recalled vehicles to act immediately on recall notices and replace defective Takata airbags due to suspected defective air bag inflators. Brands involve BMW, General Motors, Honda, Mazda and Nissan and the vehicle models date back as far as 2000-2001. While this advisory notes specific urgency for certain U.S. states and regions featuring warm, humid climates that fact seems to be blurred by the blast of Monday news from general media. The other reality is that many vehicle owners may have ignored previous recall notices which could jeopardize the safety of occupants.
Aftermarket service and spare part networks are already stressed by a surge of product recalls issued from an abundance of caution to avoid punitive financial fines. This latest high profile consumer warning related to certain airbag deflator defects will add more stress to overly stressed networks that lack the tools to handle such volumes.
Automotive OEM’s have fostered component product innovation strategies among a key set of lower-tiered component system suppliers, and OEM’s leverage such innovation across multiple vehicle and brand platforms. These strategies were put in place to foster both faster product innovation cycles as well as to be able to leverage volume supply costs across multiple global platforms. The objective of leveraging lower component costs has never gone away, at least for certain OEM’s.
Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal featured a report (paid subscription or free metered view) indicating that Honda, after a long supplier relationship, is re-evaluating that arrangement with Takada in light of a series of airbag inflator product defects. Reports indicate that defective air bags, some dating back to the early 2000’s, could send metal shrapnel flying upon air bag inflation, posing serious injury risk to drivers and/or passengers. According to reports, Takada utilizes a different propellant than other suppliers, one that is cheaper but more volatile. Rival air bag suppliers that could benefit from the current crisis include Autoliv, DaicelKey Safety Systems and TRW Automotive Holdings, which is being acquired by German based ZF. The WSJ further reported that Toyota and Nissan are also concerned about Takata air bag systems in the light of the current circumstances. But, switching suppliers that support one or several global product platforms is somewhat more challenging from a timing perspective.
The WSJ report provides some in-depth perspective on how Takada has expanded its global just-in-time supplier footprint to accommodate individual OEM platform demand. The report alludes that the product quality problems may have stemmed from a period of rapid growth, testing communication and process discipline among far-flung regional plants. After two years of investigation, Honda and Takata joint quality teams discovered certain machine defects in a plant in Washington state and in process parameters in a Mexican plant. At times, poor record keeping hindered the ability to figure out which cars had defective inflators installed.
Whether Takada can recover from this ongoing and compounding product recall and branding crisis is certainly open to skepticism and speculation. However, Supply Chain Matters feels that automotive OEM’s face their-own realities related to product development and global product platform cycles. A global platform strategy supported by component supply agreements has to be balanced with supplier risk. Requiring suppliers to locate just-in-time production across far-flung global regions requires an assessment of rigid process control discipline and conformance. When such controls indicate cause for concern, two-way communication must be forthright and honest and procurement teams need to be proactive in assessing and communicating risk implications.
Today’s overly sensitized regulatory environment requires timely feedback and responsive risk mitigation.
The passenger safety, financial, and brand risks are far higher.