BMW is the latest automaker to have its world upended by a recall due to defective airbags. Faulty airbag inflators manufactured by Takata can explode in a crash and spew metal shards onto vehicle occupants. The defect has been linked to at least 17 deaths worldwide and prompted one of the largest recalls in automotive history. More than a dozen car companies now have issued recalls.
There are crisis management lessons to learn. First, your company may fall victim to a problem that is entirely not of its making. All of these car manufacturers relied on Takata to provide high quality products that would perform as intended. Now all of these companies have legal, financial, reputation and supply chain issues to deal with. Even if you think your operation is impervious to a crisis because of your excellent stewardship, a crisis may strike from outside. You must be ready.
The second lesson is that product quality problems are particularly gnarly. It can be very difficult to track which products went where. Automobile production is highly complex with many variables in play. Knowing which specific vehicles have which particular parts is part of the nightmare. Investments in product tracking pay great dividends at a time like this.