Mitsubishi Motors Corp. (Tokyo) has lengthened total vehicle development time by 10 months to improve quality. Going from 30 to 40 months from the start of development to the sale of a car allows for greater focus on developing product proposals and concept cars and for fixing the styling of a car earlier in the process.

"In the old days we found that quality problems arose because there were a lot of changes in the very late stages," observes Marcus Schwill, general manager of Mitsubishi's quality management system. To combat the problem, management is now involved in checking development earlier in the process.

While some experts argue that lengthening the development time makes the company less competitive, Schwill says that improving quality control was deemed more important than shortening development time.

Mitsubishi is in the process of regaining consumer confidence. In the summer of 2000, the automaker admitted that it hid consumer complaints about vehicle defects from the Japanese government for more than 20 years, resulting in a recall of more than 1.5 million vehicles worldwide.