Boeing worked for years to develop its 787 Dreamliner jet. It represents a huge investment. And it has sold well. So Boeing can relax, right? Well, not so fast. It turns out that the 787 uses lithium ion batteries that have a tendency to overheat and even catch fire. 787’s are being grounded for safety reviews. Bad for business! And NYT reports today
Even before two battery failures led to the grounding of all Boeing 787 jets this month, the lithium-ion batteries used on the aircraft had experienced multiple problems that raised questions about their reliability.
Boeing’s little battery problem is mushrooming int a whopper of a tummy ache. And it has a strategic choice to make. Boeing can downplay the problem (stonewall it), asserting that it is “in hand” or that they are “cooperating fully” with the powers that be. Like the way BP did after its offshore drilling platform exploded and started spewing a huge amount of oil into the gulf. Damage control with a band-aid on the problem can get one through the next quarter’s earnings reports, so it is a popular option.
Or Boeing might use the problem to upgrade confidence in its commitment to safety. This means shining a light on the problem. Really getting into it publicly and finding a way beyond it, even if it costs a lot of money.
This second strategy sounds expensive and it can be, which is why companies don’t do it, even when they should. Hmmm … I seem to recall a study where clients compared two suppliers. The supplier A performed perfectly 50 times in a row. Supplier B performed perfectly 49 times and screwed up on the 50th time. After the screw up, it apologized and fixed the problem pronto. Which supplier got more loyalty? That’s right, supplier B.
Well, so far Boeing seems to be stonewalling it. But that strategy may not last. Elon Musk (a guy who knows a thing or two about how these kinds of batteries work) has gone public (1) explaining what is wrong with Boeing’s battery design and (2) offering to help Boeing fix it.
Is Musk friend or foe? Stay tuned for Boeing’s decision on that one.