My Bitchin’, Toyota

With apologies to the band the Dead Milkmen and their song “Bitchin’ Camaro.” Note the comma in my title, though.

It’s ironic that my first-ever customer experience with Toyota would have some hiccups along the way. About a month ago, I took delivery of a new Prius (it’s a company fleet vehicle from my employer, not something I purchased). I’ll post my impressions of driving the vehicle in another post soon.

From a customer service standpoint, I wasn’t thrilled that the dealer didn’t put the front license plate frame on the vehicle. It was in the trunk along with a bag with two screws. I understand why Toyota doesn’t install it at the factory (not every state requires front plates) and not every dealer puts that bracket on for you (this has been the case with GM dealers).

So my permanent plates arrived, the dealer offered to mail them to me to avoid the 60 mile round-trip drive it would have taken to go pick them up. The dealership paid for the postage and cheerfully said “We’ll overnight it to you,” which seemed like some muda since my temporary tags didn’t expire for two more weeks and it wasn’t urgent, but oh well.

Today, I went to put the plastic bracket on the front bumper. The idea of drilling through the plastic bumper myself made me a bit nervous (I’m not good with tools), but I figured I’d try. The bracket didn’t come with a standard work document, so I was on my own. With only two screws, I figured the same screws would attach the plate to the bracket and also the bracket to the bumper. Nope. And I promptly cracked something on the plate bracket. Oops. Like I said, I’m not good with tools.

So I called a different dealer (only 10 miles away, I had no choice which dealership I could use for taking delivery of the vehicle) to come into their service department, explaining I think I had broken the bracket and needed help. The woman on the phone said there should have been four screws in the kit.

“Sometimes we forget to send out the screws…. that’s an internal problem we need to solve.”

It’s certainly a systemic problem since, again, this was a different dealer than the dealer that was supposed to send me the screws with the plate. Are the dealers fixing the root cause of that problem? Apparently not.

I got to the dealer and they looked at it all and asked me about the extra screws. I don’t have them, I had to tell someone again. The other dealer didn’t send them to me. They informed me that they didn’t stock extra plate brackets and the additional curved piece I supposedly needed (also not sent to me). The service rep said I had to go to the OTHER dealer to get it all taken care of. They couldn’t take a bracket out of a different Prius (there were some in the lot).

I’ve read before and heard about how Toyota’s dealers don’t live up the Toyota Production System principles and quality execution. That’s a shame. So far, I’m not impressed and I’m a somewhat irritated “customer” (I put that in quotes since it’s not my vehicle and my money… just my time). Reminds me of the Lean Solutions concept of “don’t waste the customer’s time.”

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Mark Graban's passion is creating a better, safer, more cost effective healthcare system for patients and better workplaces for all. Mark is a consultant, author, and speaker in the "Lean healthcare" methodology. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. His most recent project is an eBook titled Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also the VP of Improvement & Innovation Services for the technology company KaiNexus.

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5 Comments on "My Bitchin’, Toyota"

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  1. Thoughts on Driving a Prius — Lean Blog | July 27, 2011
  1. Frisbeeralf says:

    Hi Mark,

    that’s quite a story that you are telling us.

    As can be seen there is always MUDA around us, and even at Toyota. Let’s face them and change them -Kaizen them out! Of course here comes the customer’s voice that has to be heard by company!

    Cheers and thank you for the interesting story

    Ralf

  2. Robert says:

    First of all, the root cause of this problem is excessive government regulation. Ideally, law enforcement would want a license plate on the rear, front, sides and roof, but they are able to get by in many states with only one plate. When Michigan changed its law to no longer require the front plate over 25 years ago, I remember a friend who removed it the day the law became effective. He went to Canada that day and the customs officer was upset, but they got over it. For a while they had a mirror, and now they have cameras for those officers are not visually ambidextrous.

    That’s a little ironic, Mark, since you had all the trouble with your Saab when the Texas dealer drilled holes in the bumper and installed the front license bracket even though you didn’t want it since Arizona doesn’t use a front plate. You could have the selling dealer express mail the screws and the additional curved piece along with standard work instructions. The bracket parts and attaching screws should have been in the trunk when you took delivery so they wouldn’t have to spend the time and money express mailing them to you.

    The systemic problem is that you took delivery at a dealer that’s not located near you. The situation is that the selling dealer screwed up on something that’s part of the sales transaction, and I doubt the other dealer would get paid for installing your license bracket to clean up after the other dealer’s mess. While technically every dealer should be able to service the vehicle under warranty and make money doing it, you might run into resistance and resentment from the non-selling dealer, especially if the selling dealer is perceived as stealing the other dealer’s sales through discounting or moving large numbers of fleet vehicles. This might not be as bad now at the domestic dealerships, where sales volumes are down and warranty service is way down (due to the double whammy of much improved quality and lower volumes.) Dealers are very dependent on service / warranty to meet their fixed expenses.

    It would be nice if they had a design with just two attachments and one piece, but since it is installed by the dealer, there is less incentive for Toyota to reduce the base engineered content (the assembly time) on this part. Chevrolet trucks have two bolts to attach the Chevy bow tie emblem to the grille, but GMC trucks used to have 6 fasteners; 2 for each letter. The fix back then was to have the supplier install the GMC emblem to the grille (with 6 fasteners) so it wouldn’t count against hours per vehicle, but the new GMC designs finally use two fasteners and several locating pins.

    The best approach is to make the bracket a zero cost option. Dealers in states with front license plates will order it and the others won’t. The GM bracket packages are in the trunk with the screws in a bag taped to the plastic bracket. GM used to order them on all company vehicles in Michigan, not knowing where they were going to be resold. I haven’t noticed the front license brackets in the trunk lately, so maybe that’s a cost reduction and a service parts revenue opportunity now.
    First of all, the root cause of this problem is excessive government regulation. Ideally, law enforcement would want a license plate on the rear, front, sides and roof, but they are able to get by in many states with only one plate. When Michigan changed its law to no longer require the front plate over 25 years ago, I remember a friend who removed it the day the law became effective. He went to Canada that day and the customs officer was upset, but they got over it. For a while they had a mirror, and now they have cameras for those officers are not visually ambidextrous.

    That’s a little ironic, Mark, since you had all the trouble with your Saab when the Texas dealer drilled holes in the bumper and installed the front license bracket even though you didn’t want it since Arizona doesn’t use a front plate. You could have the selling dealer express mail the screws and the additional curved piece along with standard work instructions. The bracket parts and attaching screws should have been in the trunk when you took delivery so they wouldn’t have to spend the time and money express mailing them to you.

    The systemic problem is that you took delivery at a dealer that’s not located near you. The situation is that the selling dealer screwed up on something that’s part of the sales transaction, and I doubt the other dealer would get paid for installing your license bracket to clean up after the other dealer’s mess. While technically every dealer should be able to service the vehicle under warranty and make money doing it, you might run into resistance and resentment from the non-selling dealer, especially if the selling dealer is perceived as stealing the other dealer’s sales through discounting or moving large numbers of fleet vehicles. This might not be as bad now at the domestic dealerships, where sales volumes are down and warranty service is way down (due to the double whammy of much improved quality and lower volumes.) Dealers are very dependent on service / warranty to meet their fixed expenses.

    It would be nice if they had a design with just two attachments and one piece, but since it is installed by the dealer, there is less incentive for Toyota to reduce the base engineered content (the assembly time) on this part. Chevrolet trucks have two bolts to attach the Chevy bow tie emblem to the grille, but GMC trucks used to have 6 fasteners; 2 for each letter. The fix back then was to have the supplier install the GMC emblem to the grille (with 6 fasteners) so it wouldn’t count against hours per vehicle, but the new GMC designs finally use two fasteners and several locating pins.

    The best approach is to make the bracket a zero cost option. Dealers in states with front license plates will order it and the others won’t. The GM bracket packages are in the trunk with the screws in a bag taped to the plastic bracket. GM used to order them on all company vehicles in Michigan, not knowing where they were going to be resold. I haven’t noticed the front license brackets in the trunk lately, so maybe that’s a cost reduction and a service parts revenue opportunity now.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I would be frustrated with the scew issues. However on a side note, I’m glad that they don’t put the frames on my cars. I’m in a state that requires them, but I choose to not use the front plate. That being said, I would prefer to not have a hole in the bumper of my car had the dealer put on such a frame.

  4. Mark Graban says:

    Sorry, had to repost Jason’s comment without the long link:

    Interesting to note that Toyota’s dealer-level customer service is getting hammered elsewhere on the web. Check out this disturbing story on Consumerist.com

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