Toyota Motor Corp's president boss has finally stopped shilly-shallying. Mr Akio Toyoda has now agreed that he will appear in person before the U.S. congressional committee investigating the recall of literally millions of cars made by the world's No. 1 auto manufacturer.
The first act to the Toyota saga is now ending and you would have to be pretty biased not to see the event as a humiliation for the family-run company that has for decades been associated with Japanese industrial prowess. The lousy publicity has inevitably been translated into lost sales and a world-wide concern over the safety of Toyota cars.
What happens next will determine how and when Toyota can regain its badly dented reputation and start recapturing markets that are clearly collapsing at present. Since the scale of the recall is estimated to be in the region of eight and a half million vehicles, the debacle is extraordinary for the company that has only recently grabbed the coveted global No. 1 spot from General Motors.
It is a reminder too that there are problems for all car manufacturers in a market that continues to see too many companies. Toyota must sort itself out and will hardly need reminding that plenty of proud names with lengthy histories have continued to foul up in a highly competitive global market. Mergers and demergers plus state-funded collaborations are leaving wrecks everywhere. Renault may have "saved" Nissan but it is far from clear whether Fiat can work its magic with Chrysler.
Under such circumstances, it makes little real sense for sections of the Japanese media to complain that Detroit is set on bashing Toyota. The fact that among the safety allegations is the little matter of over 30 possible fatalities that may be linked to Toyota's vehicles rules such comments out of order.
It is also tempting but unwise to suggest that the United States is about to send out a lynch mob to get Toyota. Overseas journalists with lots of experience have long been covering the Japanese auto industry for North American and European trade papers and there is precious little evidence that they have been unfair in their recent coverage. It is, after all, two decades or so since the West stood guilty of bashing the Japanese car industry with attempts to restrict Nagoya with "voluntary" numerical restraints. Times have changed. European and North American workers on Japanese assembly lines want to keep their jobs and politicians everywhere are equally anxious that there be no backlash against Toyota.
The recent news of temporary factory closures in Europe and the United States by Toyota is bad news for the company and its employees. Those engineers working in Toyota's modern plant in the British midlands will recall that the original space was nothing more than an almost empty green area used by amateurs flying the occasional gypsy moth biplane. They and their fellow workers in Europe and north America are hoping against hope that the public backlash against Toyota will be short lived but that remains to be seen and is far from assured.
Two conclusions, though, are likely to emerge in what is about to become act two of the continuing Toyota saga. The first is the probability in the view at least of consumer analysts that European standards over faulty cars will be raised along the lines of the United States' National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This would lead to a mandatory scheme when manufacturers are first aware of potential safety faults to their cars rather than the present reliance on the manufacturers to own up to problems.
The second likelihood is that Toyota will have to step back and consider regrouping. The suggestion that ambitious sales targets may have been at the expense of quality will no doubt be debated within its headquarters and beyond Nagoya too. The blows that the company has taken in recent weeks may not be more than temporary by many within Japan but the attitude of the public abroad is almost certainly less forgiving. Potential buyers overseas are certain to want comprehensive reassurance over the safety of the cars it wishes to consider purchasing and this must involve accurate and detailed public information. Perhaps in the end Toyota may even have to reinvent itself.© Japan Today