Toyota Redux, Quality Issues Still Plague Company

Toyota President and COO Jim Lentz

Toyota President and COO Jim Lentz

Japanese products have come a long way over the past several decades, dramatically improving their reputation in the United States.  Gone is the stigma of poor quality, replaced with value and superiority, particularly among the Japanese automakers.   That all may be changing however, as Toyota grapples with a multi-million vehicle recall and a PR nightmare that has been plaguing the company since 2004.

SpinnerNation reported in October 2009, Toyota’s lackluster response when the “sudden-acceleration” crisis emerged on the national stage, chalking it up to faulty car mats. The company still believes engine failure is not the cause of any acceleration problem, which may have lead to 13 fatalities over seven years.

Toyota seems to be on the right track by suspending sales on eight models and will undergo the colossal task of retrofitting more than 4 million cars in the U.S. and Europe (2.3 million in America) with a “selective spacer” or shim, which will prevent the gas pedal from remaining in the depressed position.

Toyota Motor Sales President & COO Jim Lentz exclusively appeared on “The Today Show” this morning, responding to critics while discussing the company’s solution to fixing the sticking pedal situation, a separate issue from the faulty mat recall of last year, creating an even bigger PR challenge for the Japan-based company. The company’s Web site also provides a Lentz apology, as well as a Q&A and other background on the current crisis.

Whether Toyota will recover from this debacle is unclear, although its response has gained positive momentum in recent days, even though the company was late out of the gate. No doubt the company will lose market share. The stock dropped 18% since January 21 and the company estimates a $500 million a month loss due to the halt on sales, not including the brand damage that will most likely affect future revenues.

While Toyota must continue to disseminate information to customers and the public at large via various media channels, the main objective right now should be a quick, successful recall. Until this is completed, along with changes to the company’s manufacturing of future models, Toyota will have difficulty promoting any type of safety message. Even then, the company will have an uphill battle trying to win back the hearts and minds of new and existing motorists.

Toyota Floor Mat Recall Gets Shagged

2009 Toyota Camry To Recall Floor Mats

2009 Toyota Camry To Recall Floor Mats

Toyota Motors is in trouble.  Safety experts are taking a closer look at the company’s claims that faulty carpet caused a series of deathly car crashes.   

Industry watchers believe that computerized ignition and transmission systems are partly to blame for a number of fatal crashes involving runaway Toyota vehicles, which prompted the Japanese automaker to recall floor mats from several Lexus and Toyota models, including the Avalon, Camry, Prius, Tacoma and Tundra. 

The most recent collision occurred on August 28, when four people were killed in San Diego, after their 2009 Lexus ES350 veered out of control while reaching speeds of 120 mph. Off-duty veteran California highway patrol officer Mark Saylor was behind the wheel, but couldn’t control the runaway car despite his police training.  Saylor, along with his wife and their 13-year-old daughter and brother-in-law, were killed in the crash.

No doubt that Toyota considers this issue a “critical matter,” especially after the company’s top staffer, president Akio Toyoda, delivered an unprecedented “profound apology” just three months after taking office.  The organization still believes its vehicles to be among the safest on the road, and will launch a safety campaign aimed at the faulty mats. 

Faulty mats aren’t the only problem at Toyota Motor Corporation.  The company announced that September sales were down 13.1 percent over last year, despite a pretty good 3Q, mostly due to the U.S.’s cash-for-clunkers program.  Toyota is confident going into 4Q however, regardless of a sluggish economy and tight consumer credit market. 

Legal problems may be mounting.  The company continues to face litigation over accusations of a cover-up into the investigations of more than 300 roll-over accidents.  Former Toyota lawyer Dimitrios Biller filed a federal racketeering suit alleging that the Japanese automaker withheld evidence in several rollover suits.

Toyota has a tough job ahead as its flagship brand continues to receive heavy damages.   The company must do more to calm customer concerns than just offer tips on how to deal with “an accelerator pedal getting stuck.”  Toyota’s safety plan must be comprehensive in content and dissemination; otherwise all of its brands will suffer the impact across a highly competitive automotive market.