Scott County

Toyota quality officer says automaker is doing well

Toyota's recently appointed chief quality officer for North America said this week the automaker's repairs of recalled vehicles are moving along rapidly and recent sales figures show its customers are standing behind the company.

Steve St. Angelo, who is also president of the Georgetown plant, was tapped for the high-profile position less than two months ago and is leading the new North American Quality Task Force, helping guide how changes are made in the region.

He discussed this week the company's recent recalls and outlined how his new responsibilities, which involve traveling around the world, are affecting his time at the Georgetown plant.

Here are portions of the conversation:

On repairing the recalled vehicles: "We have 3 million remedies performed on recalled vehicles so far," he said. "That was a lot of great work by our dealers and technicians."

On lessons learned: "Good companies fix their problems. We're actually learning from those problems, and that's what great companies do. And we're doing a better job of gathering information from the field."

On the company's independent quality panel headed by former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Rodney E. Slater: "What an impressive group that is. They came to the plant a couple of weeks ago, and we weren't sure how to interface and act with them, but they rolled up their sleeves. They went on the test track and went through a test we do. ... They went to the assembly line and watched one of our pedals being installed. ...

"They were asking a lot of good questions. You can tell they were great thinkers. ... We walked away really pumped up because we have a special set of eyes. We really believe they can help take our quality to the next level."

On communicating better with customers: St. Angelo cited the example that some customers think their vehicles might be unintentionally accelerating, but it's actually a safety mechanism for cruise control that brakes if another car pulls in front of you.

"We're finding that a lot of this unintended acceleration concern we're hearing from customers is, we haven't done a good job of educating them when they picked up their car. ... We think we're improving that."

On whether Toyota plans to have after-market products such as floormats installed at factories instead of at dealer showrooms: "Toyota Motor Sales is responsible for the design of the mats. Honestly, I don't think where the mats are installed is so important, though we're re-evaluating that. We're re-evaluating everything that TMS installs, by the way. We're looking at where they install the mats, if they have the right experience and the right tools."

On how the new role affects his time in Georgetown: "I'm very, very fortunate to have the team I have at Georgetown. ... They have a lot of experience working well together. They keep me informed of what's going on on an hourly basis. ... I spend as much free time as I can here.

"There are many times I visit the plant in the evening. It's been about two days max a week that I'm at the plant. ... My upper management is very concerned of how I can balance all these things. I'm still doing a very good job at it. I think they feel comfortable with me having my fingers in the pie, and I really love it here."

On the company's April sales, which were up 24 percent compared with April 2009: "Obviously, we're very pleased. ... The message there is, our customers still trust us. Our customers know our cars are safe. ... Are we perfect? Heck no. Are we going to work hard? Yes."