Monday, February 08, 2010

Toyota Exhausted

The so-called “quality” car — that has stood out for decades since the foreign car invasion of the U.S. many moons ago — has finally “collapsed,” so to speak … or at least its reputation has. Its business may follow, if the blunders continue and Toyota fails to publish a “repair plan” that customers can believe in.

First the company said it was the floor mats that caused the stuck-accelerator problems, then electrical issues in the accelerator itself and lately it is braking problems in the Prius. There has also been a parade of communications mistakes, while people are dying due to these problems.

The headline in Sunday’s New York Times is “Toyota Has Pattern of Slow Response on Safety Issues.” Authors James Kanter, Micheline Maynard and Hiroko Tabuchi cite design changes to correct safety issues that the company has been making — without telling customers about the underlying problems with cars already on the road. Yet according to the NYT, the CEO has balked at questions regarding whether the company has ever withheld safety information.

Further, while the CEO has issued a couple of apologies, he has been delegating the task of reassuring American consumers on various key TV shows and plans to do the same at Congressional hearings next week. The executive selected to be the “face” of the company has none of the operational responsibilities required to speak to these issues.

So what do we have here? Slow response, when immediacy is a fundamental in crisis communications. Lack of clarity and transparency, when being above board with customers is the only way to save your skin, if you can save it at all. Lack of accountability, when accountability means the CEO is front and center.

All the fundamentals of crisis communications are being violated, not unlike the missteps of Enron, Worldcom, Arthur Andersen and even Tiger Woods. As the great American philosopher, George Santayana, has said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Is Toyota suffering from a case of “historical amnesia” so profound that the company’s communications efforts have collapsed in exhaustion?

Technorati Tags: Prius, Toyota,
safety issues, breaking problems,Hiroko Tabuchi, James Kanter, Micheline Maynard

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