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How Did Toyota Veer So Far Off Course?

02/12/2010
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Japanese auto giant, Toyota, has been under fire in the last few months over recall woes for sticky brake pedals and mats that entrap the accelerator pedal. Twenty deaths have been blamed and linked to the faulty gas pedal and YouTube has videos and 911 recordings of people whose Toyota has sped out of control.

Our faith in a brand that for years has ensured safety and quality is now tarnished. The lack of importance Toyota initially put on the recalls and their quickness to repair these defects has consumers fuming. Toyota is also accused of taking far to long to recall the cars in the first place. Reports on sticky pedals in Toyota’s have been documented back to 2008. It has recently been acknowledged that Toyota has known about customers complaining about sticky accelerator pedals in the UK since late 2008.  Toyota only went public on these complaints after British government safety officials alerted US counterparts who were handling a massive deluge of complaints about the sticking accelerators. This exposure led to Toyota’s recall of 12 of its popular vehicles, with some 2004 models being involved in the recent recalls. Toyota has recalled nearly 8.5 million vehicles since November 2009 around the world.

According to Toyota’s website, the Avalon, Camry, Corolla, Highlander, Matrix, Prius, RAV4, Sequoia, Tacoma, Tundra and VENZA, are involved in the two safety recalls that include a floor mat entrapment and/or a sticky accelerator pedal.  The company’s president Akio Toyoda, is meeting with US lawmakers to testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on February 24. He also plans to meet with American workers and dealers during his US visit.

Toyoda submitted a letter to The Washington Post on February 9, stating the company’s willingness to gain back customer loyalty and trust. Toyoda writes that, “Toyota is doing everything we can to insure that our vehicles are safe and reliable. The past few weeks, however, have made clear that Toyota has not lived up to the high standards we set for ourselves. Most important, we have not lived up to the high standards you have come to expect from us. I am deeply disappointed by that and apologize. As the president of Toyota, I take personal responsibility. That is why I am personally leading the effort to restore trust in our word and in our products.”

But is this all just a little too late for the car leader? Is the public ready to go ahead and trust an automotive dealer who has failed to recall their cars after knowing of serious complaints from car owners for the past two years?

There are entire families who have owned Toyota’s their entire lives, and Toyota cannot afford to lose their reputation as a durable, reliable and affordable brand. Maybe Toyota can learn a bit from car manufacturer Audi, who in the 1980’s faced similar allegations of unintended accelerations when faulty gas pedals in its 5000 sedan series were linked to six deaths and 700 crashes, according to a recent Newsweek article. Newsweek states that Jim Hossack, an automotive historian and consultant with auto marketing and research firm AutoPacific says, “Toyota has not done a bang-up job of crisis management. They’ve been slow to own the situation, and even when they do issue apologies, like the one from Toyota CEO last week, it has come off as insincere and lacking.”

However, unlike Audi, who suffered a 15 year lull due to its handling of its recall issue, don’t expect that same effect for Toyota. As surprised as Americans are over their beloved Toyota, the majority of Toyota drivers in America have had no problems with their vehicles. According to Newsweek, CNN spent a week interviewing satisfied Toyota owners outside of dealerships. “If it’s fixed right and fixed the first time, people usually end up being more loyal,” says Steven Witten, executive director of U.S. automotive research at J.D. Power.

It remains to be seen how Toyota will ultimately fair from this ordeal. How long customers remain uncertain about their product is entirely up to them. Let’s hope they continue to do the right thing and fix these cars right the first time. Toyota needs to hold onto their stellar reputation, one they have spent the last 50 years trying to obtain, and continue to produce the reliable, quality vehicles we have come to expect.

For more information about the recent recalls, visit the Toyota website.

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