That Japan’s corporate brand has been damaged by the recent spate of Toyota automotive recalls would be an understatement.
And the damage may go far beyond cars, also reaching into the air transport sector. The global aerospace industry has often looked to Japan for ideas. It is rare to tour a western aerospace facility where the Toyota-inspired kanban just-in-time production model hasn’t been adopted in one way or another. So when Toyota suffers quality problems, the aerospace industry, too, needs to understand how that could happen.
But the real concern for the Japanese industry in the realm of air transport and aerospace is that the reputational damage goes far beyond Toyota.
The list of missteps in the air transport and aerospace realm is starting to get rather long, which needs to be a concern for the Japanese aerospace sector at a time when China is growing its own expertise and South Korea is flexing its industrial muscle. What’s more, the missteps could undermine confidence in the Mitsubishi Regional Jet if the country’s reputation as an aerospace center of excellence is profoundly damaged.
The most embarrassing of the latest miscues is clearly the news that Koito falsified seat certification data. Airbus, for its part, is looking for alternate seat suppliers.
Put on top of that the situation surrounding JAL, the once proud national carrier. The need for a government bailout and subsequent requirement for the airline to drastically reduce its network, staff, and be shielded from creditors has tarnished an iconic Japanese corporate brand.
Put on top of that the fact that in 2006 Brazilian aircraft maker Embraer was forced to bring work on some of its regional jetw in house after Kawasaki Heavy Industries failed to meet production targets for the 190/195 wing. The miscue set back Embraer’s production plans for a considerable period.
Not all problems, of course, are the same. In Boeing’s development of the 787, Japanese suppliers also came up against their set of challenges, but as a colleague of mine (and one of the closers 787 watchers around) assures me, the Japanese partners responded far better than many others. “They stumbled, but didn’t really fall down like other did.”
None of this suggests that Japan’s aerospace ambitions are doomed to fail, but it does mean the country’s industry needs some period of smooth program execution to rebuild its reputation for delivering high quality work.