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Steve Chiotakis: Toyota says it’s recalling more than 400,000 Prius and other hybrid cars worldwide to fix brake problems. That’s after nearly 200 complaints in Japan and the United States about a delay when the brakes in the Prius were pressed under certain conditions. Now Toyota of course has recalled a lot of other cars as well — for sudden acceleration. And if you’re wondering why so many are involved, look no further than this term: a lot of it has to do with commonization. That’s when a company uses a single part across several different model lines. Yeah, it saves money when it goes right, but it can cause a lot of problems when it doesn’t. Marketplace’s Alisa Roth explains.
Alisa Roth: Commonizing parts can save a lot of money, so manufacturers have been doing more and more of it. And Toyota has always been the master.
John Henke is an auto industry consultant at Planning Perspectives. He says commonization can make the end product cheaper.
John Henke: Because the auto companies are putting the same part on more vehicles, and so they can get better prices from their suppliers.
They save on R and D costs, and there’s no extra cost for setting up production. But when something goes wrong with a part — like Toyota’s accelerators — it can end up a problem for lots of different vehicles.
Henke says it would be too expensive to go back to using multiple different parts and suppliers. But that there are ways car makers can mitigate the potential damage.
Henke: One thing they have to continue to do is be very vigilant on the quality of the products that are coming into the plant.
And he says, car makers need to make sure they’re collecting-and analyzing-data from dealers around the world, so they can identify small problems before they get too big.
I’m Alisa Roth for Marketplace.
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