Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Inferior Quality - the True Reason U.S. Isn't No. 1

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Inferior Quality - the True Reason U.S. Isn't No. 1

Article excerpt

Our economic well-being hinges on one word, above all others: quality.

Congress's misguided trade legislation is premised upon the idea that the other fellows (Japan, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, et al.) don't fight fairly in the marketplace. The fact is that most of our problems in our home and our export markets come from our lousy product quality.

At home, the most recent statistics from renowned pollster J.D. Power, for instance, show that relative U.S. auto quality is not improving. New models are bellwethers. Of the top 20 defect-free 1987 new offerings, 10 are Japanese, eight European and only two American, the latter down from five in 1985. Incidentally, the top-ranked American entrant is the Chevrolet Nova, made by the joint venture between General Motors and Toyota.

Overseas, we are having a devilish time substituting quality goods and service exports for our lost edge in farm and natural-resource products that have supported us for the past century. Europeans are beating us in Japan, and the Japanese are beating us in Europe, thanks to their better-quality offerings.

What are we doing about it? Fortune and Business Week finally deigned to run cover stories on quality in the past 12 months. But they - and the general news weeklies - each sought to devote a special column every issue to report on good news and bad in quality improvement.

The topic is clearly not the national obsession it must become. In fact, most of the energy we devote to the topic is aimed at trying to dodge the truth - via foreigner-bashing trade legislation and the commissioning of endless polls in a fruitless hope that some magic set of new questions will yield the ``right'' - U.S. is No. 1 - answer.

Most companies have called in a quality guru-consultant or two, and any number have launched a quality program with ruffles and flourishes. But I judge that more than 90 percent of the programs have quickly wilted or have failed to narrow the daunting quality gap vis-a-vis their best competitors. Why? One reason is badly misplaced emphasis among the four dominant features that are essential to achieving a quality revolution.

- Systems are essential. Poor-quality costs (rework, inspection, etc.) must be measured. Statistical process control techniques must be introduced across the board. On a more sweeping note, a very systematic process must guide the overall quality-improvement effort.

- Top-management commitment is a must. Through time spent, for instance, senior managers must demonstrate each day, dramatically if possible, that quality is unequivocally at the top of their firm's agenda. …

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