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Do Firms Learn From Product Recalls?

The impetus for this stream of research was the massive recall by Toyota in 2009 for its stick pedal problems (click here). The first paper in this area sought to examine if there was a silver lining to recalls and whether firms improved reliability following significant recalls. Surprisingly, this research revealed that firms that pursued a strategy of using common parts across models and lower tier brands are more likely to improve quality after recalls. This research was covered in several leading mass media publications (see here ).




Buyer-Supplier Networks and Modular Product Designs

The automobile industry is a significant cog in the U.S. economy. Given the prominence of this industry, there is speculation often about why there are quality lapses in this industry. It turns out that the quality woes have multiplied after the automobile industry has pursued modularization and vertical disintegration of product development. While modularity as a strategy has worked well in the computer industry, the automobile industry appears to be far more complex. The benefit of modularity is that it offers a form of embedded coordination that reduces the need for product designers to exchange information. Our recent work (forthcoming in Customer Needs and Solutions) seeks to understand whether the degree of interdependence in buyer-supplier networks is lower for modular systems compared to integral systems. We construct social networks to infer the degree of dependence between buyers and suppliers and a design structure matrix (DSM) to capture dependencies between various automobile systems. Our findings suggest that for achieving higher quality in modular systems, buyer-supplier dependencies need to be stronger rather than weaker. The greater incidence of product recalls in the marketplace for modular systems is in part because of the misplaced idea that modular systems do not require coordination or information sharing.    


The research paper is available at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2618096. This paper has been selected as the best paper in the OM division of the Academy of Management.

Outsourcing new product development

The business press is awash with sentiment about the perils of NPD outsourcing and how it weakens the competitive position of the firm. Following the high profile recall of Toyota in 2009, concerns resurfaced that outsourcing may be responsible for Toyota’s quality woes. “Toyota used to buy parts from a small group of Japanese suppliers that were longtime partners. But, like almost all automakers, Toyota more recently has outsourced much of its manufacturing and production. Outsourcing may have played a part in the car maker’s problems.” Boeing 787’s lithium ion battery problems have also been attributed to the fact that Boeing sources more than 30% of its components from offshore vendors. Our recent research (forthcoming in tjhe Journal of Marketing) examines the relationship between outsourcing of NPD and product quality using data from the automobile industry.

Does Recalling Your Product Early vs Late Matter?

Toyota was fined $20 million for delaying a product recall involving a defeactive floormat. The U.S. Department of Justice fined GM $900 million for willfully delaying the recall for a faulty ignition switch and defrauding customers.  Recently. GM has asked U.S. safety regulators to a delay a recall of 980,000 trucks with Takata air bag inflators to allow it to demonstrate the vehicles are safe and avoid a hit to profits. Our recent research examines why firms recall later than others after a safety investigation is opened in the automobile industry. We find that a brand's structural position plays a critical role in influencing the time taken by firms to recall when faced with serious problems. Further, we find that on average, time to recall is penalized by stock markets because of the possibility that firms are not committed to protecting consumer safety.  The penalties exacted by stock markets are severe when firms delay recalls especially when there are accidents and injuries associated with a safety investigation.

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