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.