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Toyota names chief quality officer for North America

Steve St. Angelo, a veteran executive, will lead a group to improve vehicle quality while giving North American operations more autonomy in a company known for Japan-centric decision-making.

March 26, 2010|By Jerry Hirsch

Toyota Motor Corp. on Thursday named a veteran manufacturing executive to lead its North American Quality Task Force, an internal group created to improve the quality of its vehicles in the aftermath of recalls to address unintended acceleration.

Steve St. Angelo, executive vice president of Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing North America, was named chief quality officer for North America and a member of an international Toyota quality committee.

St. Angelo's appointment and the international committee are part of an initiative by Toyota President Akio Toyoda to address reliability and safety issues at the automaker.

Toyoda announced the effort during a public apology for Toyota's safety defects and recalls last month.

The committee will begin deliberations Tuesday in Japan.

In North America, St. Angelo will be charged with assuring quality standards are met, improving customer research and pushing closer cooperation with regulators, among other duties, Toyota said in a statement.

"We are making fundamental changes in the way our company operates in order to ensure that Toyota sets an even higher standard for vehicle safety and reliability, responsiveness to customers, and transparency with regulators," St. Angelo said. "The new organization will open the lines of communication globally and enable us to respond faster here in North America to any concerns about our vehicles."

North American operations will "have greater autonomy and play a critical role in decision-making on recalls and other safety issues," he said.

Toyota has been criticized for having an insular corporate culture in which most decisions, even for overseas operations, are made in Japan.

Toyota, the world's largest automaker, has built up a vast complex of engineering centers, test tracks, financial arms, sales offices and manufacturing plants in North America. But for the most part, the operations report independently to Japan.

The complicated tasks of gathering information about sudden-acceleration reports, analyzing the problems and coming up with fixes, as well as reporting the issues to federal safety regulators, were handled by different Toyota subsidiaries, each managed separately in many cases from Japan, former Toyota managers and employees say.

And documents released by congressional investigators show that some of the units pursued a strategy to minimize safety recalls, saving the company hundreds of millions of dollars even while reports of fatal accidents were increasing.

jerry.hirsch@latimes.com

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