As opposed to offering opinions without having all of the background and knowledge, I thought it might be more helpful to start a discussion about the questions:
Many people have written that Toyota’s problem was that it sacrificed a core value of safety for profit. To frame the issue this generally is to miss the point of the real challenge Toyota was facing: not trading one value for the other, but how to effectively balance the two.
No company can sustain profits if it builds unsafe cars. So Toyota cannot jettison safety for profit. Similarly, there is always inherent risk in any product. Even the public assumes some degree of risk. Toyota, as well as any car manufacturer is not expected to make their product 100% safe. So how do they decide what is “safe enough”?
Now we can look at an ethics issue. The ethical dilemma is in how Toyota grappled with that decision. Who had information but didn’t report it up to senior leadership? Why not? Which stakeholders, internal and external, were not included in the decision-making process?
The public on both sides of the Pacific does not begrudge Toyota making a profit. But building complicated machinery that is sold to millions of people demands inclusion of many voices in multiple decision processes. If there is a lesson to be learned, it’s the role that transparency can play in making the tough decision.