Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Will Toyota learn the safety lessons from its recall?

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Toyota - New cars homepage
Toyota’ lamentable failures to recall cars earlier and deal with quality issues have led to deaths and injuries costing it billions of dollars to correct the individual parts and settle the lawsuits. Perhaps customers will quickly allow the stain on its reputation to fade quickly but there is no doubt that Toyota’s inability to ruthlessly identify a problem and move quickly to rectify it will have a lasting impact. Certainly many comments on Toyota’s website are from diehard fans.

With perhaps some nine million cars facing recall, Toyota technicians are in a race against time to put them through the recall changes. With over 1,000 technicians in the UK trained they are claiming that they can repair 6,000 cars a day. Of course, many consumers will not take their cars in but the scale of the problem will mean that the estimate costs may increase over time, especially if further problems are identified.
Even with the highest quality assurance and control systems in places there will always be a tiny number of failures; whether it be mechanical failures or human errors in manufacturer. Even with 100% robotic assemblies there is still a small risk of error creeping in through human intervention. Businesses need to zealously pursue perfection in products and services but must have contingency plans for such failures. Toyota’s plans were exposed as a horrible mess.

Whilst the Toyota newsroom mentions a recall for accelerator problems on 26th September 2007 on some models some commentators have reported that issues were reported back in 2002. If that proves correct then the accusations that senior representatives of Toyota have either been utterly incompetent or have engaged in a cover up knowing that there was a pattern developing to the reported failures. For those that have died or been injured that is unforgiveable either way.

The environmental, vehicular darling of Hollywood stars, the Prius has now been recalled denting sales, but with no out and out alternative Toyota may be able to get the model back on track quickly. http://www.toyota.co.uk/bv/reskin/_images/cars/shim.gif
The Japanese press seem to treat the recall in a different way to the US and European press. Perhaps it is the ferocious tabloid culture which latches on to an issue and makes it viral within minutes in the US/Europe, which means that manufacturers are more sensitive to press relations and rapidly demonstrating action? Perhaps the Japanese press are too laid back in accepting a corporate giants word and failing to interrogate and challenge what they are told?

It is one thing when problems develop in a car that are annoying; say the windscreen wipers move too quickly or the dashboard is not well laid out. But brakes, accelerator? That is so fundamental to a car’s safety that there cannot be the merest smidgeon of an excuse.

However, with all of these problems it has to put right all the faults in all the models and launch a media offensive to persuade different markets that these simple problems have been overcome and will not happen again. The general consumer trust is gone in Toyota and will not return easily unless it ratchets up repeated examples of how it has changed its approach to safety design. Perhaps by selling new innovative safety features on future models it can reclaim its reputation and take this horror show and create a new image? Perhaps following the eco car’ it will develop the ultimate ‘safe car’?

I think I will continue to stick with my Volvo V70. Works very well, in all this snow and ice – I think.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Business and climate change

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The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has had bitter criticism levelled at it over a couple of pages in its last 900 page report in 2007. Yet in spite of the deniers glee at the apparent handful of mistakes, the evidence is overwhelming that the world’s climate is changing and not for the better.

Figure 1.1

IPCC AR4 Synthesis Report, Fig 1-1

The coming of the industrial revolution and the corresponding rapidly escalating carbon emissions especially in the last 40 years or so, have skewed our climate.

IPCC AR4 Synthesis Report, Fig 2-1

In the UK, the Met Office states:-

How our climate has changed
  •          Central England temperatures have increased by 1 °C since the 1970s.
  •          Total summer rainfall has decreased in most parts of the UK.
  •          Sea-surface temperature around the UK has risen by about 0.7 °C over the past three    decades.
  •          The UK has experienced nine of the 10 warmest years on record since 1990.
  •          Sea levels around the UK have risen 10 cm since 1900.


The UK Government has set a target of 80% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Perhaps though it should update the Department of Energy and Climate Change website, which still lists 10 facts under the bold headline of ACT on Copenhagen (think its a bit late). The DECC does have a good links page.

So, what does the Government want business to do? How seriously does business take climate change? I accept that ‘business’ is a hugely diverse term for everything from someone working for a few hours a week through to a billion pound multinational corporation. However, here is a taster.

The ACT on CO2 Partnerships with Business is a bit anaemic in allowing some minor business contributions being associated and publicised with the government quango. Yes, it is important to give credit where credit is due and something is better than nothing, but CarQuake advising that “Car Quake recommends considering fuel efficiency when buying a new car” warrants a mention on the site?

The CBI has its own micro site to promote carbon reduction for businesses with a clear steer by headlining the savings in financial costs. It must be complimented though for simple straightforward steps to calculate your carbon footprint to allow the measurement to be monitored and reduced. By keeping it simple it encourages an initial engagement with the concept that hopefully will lead to greater curiosity in the future.

Likewise, the Government backed Business link has a constructive and helpful set of guides and opportunities to climate change. Business Link are promoting the opportunities in low carbon transport, renewable energy, nuclear energy, manufacturing, environmental and financial services. The proof of course is in the pudding to see whether business actually finds these useful but on first inspection they look practical and workable. It highlights the British Standard PAS2050 with lots of useful connections to the Carbon Trust website and Crede website for those serious about reducing carbon emissions.

Some trade associations have been at the forefront of promoting carbon reduction such as Intellect and the Food and Drink Federation. Others have yet to even engage with the concept.

The Federation of Master Builders must be congratulated on their greener builder campaign and determination to transform Britain’s housing stock.

The Institute of Directors whilst listing some policy papers on its website gives a perfunctory overview, with a sniffy account of energy efficiency. It is a disappointing assistance in encouraging businesses to see climate change as a major issue by the captains of industry.

There are some ‘niche’ business responses to climate change. How about the lowering business lighting costs website? Or Alliance calling on recycling CO2 in aircon units of cars.  Good luck to each of these small campaigns and business opportunities. They are moving in the right direction. However, after the failure of Copenhagen, sceptics and agnostic business have been emboldened to ignore the problem or even criticise current policies.

As the Met Office states:-

How can I be sure?
Isn’t the climate always changing?
Yes. There is natural variability in the Earth’s climate but the current climate change is very unusual as it’s not exclusively part of a natural cycle.
Natural factors include volcanic eruptions, aerosols and phenomena such as El Niño and La Niña (which cause warming and cooling of the Pacific Ocean surface).
Natural climate variations can lead to periods with little or no warming, both globally and regionally, and other periods with very rapid warming. However, there is an underlying trend of warming that is almost certainly caused by man’s activities.

And if you want to see a regional breakdown of the possible (if not probable) effects of climate change check out the Met office’s guide

It is clear that until a Government introduces seriously costly carbon emission penalties (in whatever form) businesses will coast along paying general lip service to it. We await the outcome of the general election and whether the new government (whoever wins) tackles climate change with a new gusto.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Pre- election campaign hots up

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Forecast UK is now predicting a smaller Conservative victory, if the general election was called now. Whilst the Conservatives are still strong favourites to be the largest party there must be some real concerns that the polls are showing a steady slide away from David Cameron. A majority of just 40 seats can easily change during the general election campaign.

Full Forecast
Party
Seats
Since 2005
Since Prev
Conservative
345
+132
-8
Labour
224
-123
+3
Lib Dem
47
-13
+5
SNP
7
+1
nc
Plaid Cymru
5
+3
nc
Green
1
+1
nc
Irish
18
nc
nc
Other
3
-1
nc
Conservative Majority
40
Here is a quick round up of some of the latest news and policy launches for the parties.

The Conservatives new campaign of Two Nations will be watched with interest to see, if it can reverse the slippage in the polls by attacking Labour over poverty. Presumably they are trying to tap into the working people's frustration with falling living standards, rising unemployment trends and despondency with Labour and Brown. Yet, it still seems a very long way to go before working people will swing decisively towards the Conservatives. It may actually play far better with Lib Dem and soft New Labour voters who are disillusioned with Labour and Cameron wants to attract over with compassionate conservatism. (Their interactive documents using the issuu system is a user friendly way to encourage people to open the documents and easily turn the pages like they were reading a book.)

Labour
Labour is plugging away with the question of Conservative 'substance' to its policies. I think the voters have already cottoned onto this and I wonder how much more mileage there is in highlighting the same issue. With the Conservatives rolling out policies I think it would be more productive for Labour to attack the detail of the policies as they are announced. Likewise Labour is challenging the Conservatives assertion that they would only take away child credits from those earning £50,000 or more. Labour says a family earning more than £31,000 will lose their entitlements under a Conservative government.

Liberal Democrats
The Lib Dems have launched in the past few days a new green jobs manifesto pledge. This will burnish their green credentials, which is seen by voters as very strong. There seems to be new policy launches at the rate of two or three a week from the Lib Dems and they will no doubt feel aggrieved that as they stay positive the newspapers tend to stay focused on the negative war of words between Labour and the Conservatives.
Plaid - Ymlaen | Forward
Plaid Cymru have recently attacked the Labour Government's economic record, although there doesn't seem to be a detailed alternative set of economic policies offered by them.



The SNP interestingly have turned their fire power on the Conservatives with their triple whammy attack regarding feared cuts if the Conservatives come to power in Westminster.

DUP logo
The DUP meanwhile produce several press releases each day, although most of them are naturally very local to Northern Ireland. Interestingly, Nigel Dodds MP is calling for greater unionist unity. Clearly the DUP are trying to put the difficulties with Iris Robinson behind them. I trust Iris is starting to put her life back together and wish her all the best.

Sinn Féin

Sinn Fein has been highlighting the cause of Irish unity.

UUP Logo 09
The UUP have been flagging up concerns about drug use by youngsters.

Home link
Home link
Home link
The Greens (with high hopes for at least one seat in Brighton at the general election) have been backing Bill Bragg's crusade against the banker's bonus'.


Sunday, 14 February 2010

Bonus FA Cup points to premiership - Middlesbrough stay up!

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Today the attendances were significantly down at a number of the high profile FA Cup games. The beginning of half term with people perhaps taking a few days break, the recession, clusters of games forcing fans to choose which games they go to, no doubt all contributed to the fall in gate numbers. However, many commentators and fans year in year out keep posing the question; has the FA Cup lost its glamour – its magic?

There is something very special about the possibility of a non league minnow playing Chelsea or Liverpool. The mere glimmer of a chance to defeat a mighty champion against all the odds sets pulses racing and in those 90 minutes fans forget their everyday problems and are part of a little piece of history. How can the prospect of such a piece of magic mean that the FA Cup isn’t what it used to be? But the big clubs backed by millionaires and billionaires do degrade the competition by at times playing their reserves.

I see one potential solution as the FA Cup rounds not just deciding who goes through, but also playing for bonus points. That added piece of attraction could make the difference to the Premiership giants deciding to put out their best sides and would mean that they knew they could not afford to dismiss a bad result. Likewise it could make all the difference at the other end of table with teams having a good cup run avoiding relegation. A side entering in the third round would then find that potentially they were playing for another 18 points. That would impact on the league positions in a way that would inject more passion, urgency and belief in playing.

So would it for instance have made any difference to the league places in 2008/09 in say the Premiership?






Team
P
W
D
L
F
A
GD
PTS
1
38
28
6
4
68
24
44
90
2
38
25
11
2
77
27
50
86
3
38
25
8
5
68
24
44
83
4
38
20
12
6
68
37
31
72
5
38
17
12
9
55
37
18
63
6
38
17
11
10
54
48
6
62
7
38
14
11
13
39
34
5
53
8
38
14
9
15
45
45
0
51
9
38
14
9
15
42
45
-3
51
10
38
15
5
18
58
50
8
50
11
38
12
9
17
34
45
-11
45
12
38
12
9
17
38
55
-17
45
13
38
11
8
19
41
53
-12
41
14
38
10
11
17
38
57
-19
41
15
38
10
11
17
40
60
-20
41
16
38
9
9
20
34
54
-20
36
17
38
8
11
19
39
64
-25
35
18
Newcastle
38
7
13
18
40
59
-19
34
19
Middlesbrough
38
7
11
20
28
57
-29
32
20
WBA
38
8
8
22
36
67
-31
32





Taking the FA Cup results for 2008/09 and applying 3 points for a win but not applying any points for a draw (which would have forced a replay and a final outcome), nor adding to the goal difference in the league table would affect the table as below (I think I have done the maths correctly but forgive me if I have made a mistake!):-

Round 3 results for Premiership clubs
Bristol City 0-2 Portsmouth                                                                Portsmouth 3 points
Sheff Wed 1-2 Fulham                                                                        Fulham 3points
Preston NE 0-2 Liverpool                                                                   Liverpool 3 points
West Ham Utd 3-0 Barnsley                                                              West Ham 3 points
Middlesbrough 2-1 Barrow                                                                Middlesbrough 3 points
Newcastle Utd 0-1 Hull City (replay)                                                  Hull 3 points
Hartlepool Utd 2-0 Stoke City
Southend Utd 1-4 Chelsea (replay)                                                     Chelsea 3 points
Man City 0-3 Notts Forest
Peterborough United 0-2  West Bromwich Albion                             WBA 3 points
Southampton 0-3 Man Utd                                                                Man Utd 3 points
Tottenham 3-1 Wigan Athletic                                                           Tottenham 3 points
Arsenal 3-1 Plymouth Argyle                                                             Arsenal 3 points
Blyth Spartans 0-1 Blackburn Rovers                                                Blackburn 3 points
Macclesfield Town 0-1 Everton                                                          Everton 3 points
Sunderland 2-1 Bolton Wanderers                                                     Sunderland 3 points
Gillingham 1-2 Aston Villa                                                                  Aston Villa 3 points

Round 4
Everton 1-0 Liverpool (replay)                                                           Everton 3 points
Man Utd 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur                                                       Man Utd 3 points
Hull City 2-0 Millwall                                                                         Hull City 3 points
Blackburn 2-1 Sunderland                                                                 Blackburn 3 points
Hartlepool 0-2 West Ham                                                                  West Ham 3 points
Arsenal 4-0 Cardiff City                                                                     Arsenal 3 points
Portsmouth 0-2 Swansea City
Chelsea 3-1 Ipswich Town                                                                  Chelsea 3 points
Aston Villa 3-1 Doncaster Rovers                                                       Aston Villa 3 points
Burnley 3-1 West Bromwich Albion
Kettering Town 2-4 Fulham                                                                Fulham 3 points
Wolverhampton Wanders 1-2 Middlesbrough                                   Middlesbrough 3 points

Round 5
Hull City 2-1 Sheffield Utd (replay)                                                      Hull City 3 points
Watford 1-3 Chelsea                                                                           Chelsea 3 points
Middlesbrough 2-0 West Ham (replay)                                               Middlesbrough 3 points
Coventry 1-0 Blackburn Rovers (replay)
Derby 1-4 Man Utd                                                                             Man Utd 3 points
Fulham 2-1 Swansea City (replay)                                                       Fulham 3 points
Everton 3-1 Aston Villa                                                                       Everton 3 points
Arsenal 3-0 Burnley                                                                            Arsenal 3 points

Round 6
Coventry 0-2 Chelsea                                                                           Chelsea 3 points
Fulham 0-4 Man Utd                                                                            Man Utd 3 points
Arsenal 2-1 Hull City                                                                            Arsenal 3 points
Everton 2-1 Middlesbrough                                                                  Everton 3 points

Round 7 - Semi Finals
Arsenal 1-2 Chelsea                                                                            Chelsea 3 points
Man Utd 0-0 Everton (2-4 penalties)                                                 Everton 3 points

Round 8 – Final
Chelsea 2-1 Everton                                                                            Chelsea 3 points

Total extra points
Chelsea                                                  18 points
Everton                                                  15  points
Arsenal                                                  12 points
Man Utd                                                12 points
Fulham                                                    9 points
Hull City                                                 9 points
Middlesbrough                                       9 points
Aston Villa                                              6 points
Blackburn Rovers                                  6 points
West Ham                                               6 Points
Liverpool                                                3 points
Portsmouth                                             3 points
Sunderland                                              3 points
Tottenham Hotspur                                3 points
WBA                                                       3 points
Bolton                                                     0 points
Man City                                                0 points
Newcastle Utd                                        0 points
Stoke City                                              0 points
Wigan Athletic                                       0 points


New Table after FA Cup points Bonus 2008/09

Pos
Club
Points
Change
1
Man Utd
102
Same
2
Chelsea
101
Up 1
3
Liverpool
89
Down 1
4
Arsenal
84
Same
5
Everton
78
Same
6
Aston Villa
66
Same
7
Fulham
62
Same
8
West Ham Utd
57
Up 1
9
Tottenham
54
Down 1
10
Man City
50
Same
11
Blackburn
47
Up 4
12
Wigan Ath
45
Down 1
13
Stoke City
45
Down 1
14
Portsmouth
44
Same
15
Hull City
44
Up 2
16
Bolton
41
Down 3
17
Middlesbrough
41
Up 2
18
Sunderland
39
Down 2
19
WBA
35
Up 1
20
Newcastle
34
Down 2

Overall the table looks very similar but for certain clubs it would have an impact. 

The key changes are that Chelsea move up one to claim the runners up place from Liverpool and crucially Middlesbrough due to its great Cup run avoid relegation and Sunderland go down to the Championship. 

There could be other permutations by including the results of say the League Cup and obviously it would extend to all divisions. This simple but effect bonus system would force managers to take into account the FA Cup as something as important as the Premiership. It would be worth a try out for a season to see how it could shake things up a little and put a bit of extra spice into the oldest footballing cup in the world.