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Toyota is in the soup and doesn't seem to know it

30 Comments
By Henry Hilton

The world's press has Toyota under the microscope and it's not about to lay off just because the boss has done a mediocre bow. The No. 1 carmaker is going to have to take its lumps unless it comes up with a major change of course in the next few days.

The whole affair has been a PR disaster. Where are the full-page ads explaining what has happened and what owners should do to get their cars fixed? Why the hesitancy to even admit that Toyota is said to have known of the faults months before the affair became public? Why did it reportedly take direct pressure from the Obama administration and Japan's own prime minister before Akio Toyoda appeared at his news conference to say he was deeply sorry. Why the hardly astute comment that "Toyota cars are safe?"

If the guys in Nagoya don't immediately change their stance, though, it is set to be something far larger than the bumblings to date. Consumers around the world have ample alternatives to buying their cars when the market place has a glut both of car manufacturers and models. Reputations that were gained only after decades of painstaking work at headquarters and on the shop floor and research labs could quite easily be at risk today.

Toyota's seeming inability to come clean may also tell us something about the claims that we all live in a globalized world of state-less multinational corporations. Toyota is understandably proud of its extraordinary rise to prominence from a prewar loom manufacturer down in Aichi to its international position today but its current bumblings suggest a decidedly provincial approach to the crisis it currently faces. The bad publicity will not go away quickly and the faults of its top management won't be immediately forgotten either.

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama obviously saw this days ago. He clearly knows only too well both the damage it has already caused to Toyota and the dent it is making on Japan's international posture. His remarks that more or less instructed the automaker to shape up and reckon with the concerns of its customers sounds to outsiders as pretty basic stuff but seemingly necessary.

The public overseas indeed expects prompt information and rightly or wrongly has fears over the safety of a whole range of Toyota cars. Drivers in Britain, for example, are expecting major recalls even of cars that were built before the recall date announced by the manufacturer on Wednesday. What may appear to be an exagerated concern for safety in one society where trust in the name of Toyota is absolute may be vital reassurance in another.

Cynics may claim the whole issue is merely a foreign-led feeding frenzy against the world's leading auto manufacturer or that the class action suits are another unfortunate overseas invention but that is not much use in restoring Toyota's good name. The company, after all, sells more cars abroad than in the home market and it appears that senior executives, at least in Europe and probably elsewhere, were hardly kept in the picture by head office.

Toyota's troubles are a cautionary tale, too, for those who lecture on globalization and the power of mega-corporations. The texts that tell us of the borderless world may be ignoring the fact that some of these goliaths remain under the control of small executive boardrooms in the region where the companies have their historical roots. Maybe Toyota might just want to rejig its approaches to the wider world once it has resolved its present crisis.

© Japan Today

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30 Comments
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It's not unique to Japan but the idea of sticking your head in the sand and simply denying a problem exists happens here a lot. In Japan though, it's the shame thing, but look where it's got them? That parts of the Japanese media are calling it an anti-Japanese invention are equally delusional. I had thought about a Toyota on returning to Britain next year, but this issue has made that possibility now less than zero. When some of your customers are crashing and dying due your faulty products just about the most heinous, deceitful and disgraceful thing you could possibly do is pretend that no problem exists. The least the whole board of directors at Toyota could do is resign en masse. This is going to take a bit more than a few bows and mumbles of regret.

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The Korean car manufacturers must be loving this situation...Unfortunately it's a coming sales nightmare for Japan. In Australia(and I assume in other countries), the re-sale value of Korean cars has been climbing steadily as they've improved on quality and economy considerably in recent years. There may well be elements of protectionism in the U.S that are jumping on the bandwagon of criticism, but I think the everyday consumer has every right to be critical of a company that has built up such a reputation of safety and quality. For the media in to Japan to be pointing fingers anywhere but at Toyota, could only harm that company even more.

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I don't think you'll hear from Toyoda again. Even if and when he steps down.

The reaction to this problem is hardly a surprise. Toyota knew what was going on but like most situations here you do not admit a mistake, you find ways to shift the blame. Only when you are cornered do you offer a vague apology about how the situation was regrettable and unfortunate. It wasn't until the heads of two countries forced him to acknowledge the situation. Otherwise they wouldn't have said a thing.

I think Toyota will fix the problems they are having and will bounce back somewhat. But people in the rest of the world, not necessarily here in Japan, will always remember this and think twice about buying a Toyota.

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This brake problem should be handled by a third party engineering professional team to evaluate the design. Toyota should proceed w/ the evaluation. This procedure would minimize politics.

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you should see the substandard cars toyota makes in third world countries like Pakistan. The quality is so bad that they would never allow it to clear 'Shaken' testing. infact it would not even clear customs if it was imported here.

The best part is that the corolla over there is more expensive than the equivalent they sell here.

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Toyota are too proud, a problem alot of old school Japanese companies have. Ignore it and it will go away, I hope Toyota really fails on this one just to teach them some manors.

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Toyota's mindset is pre-industrial, hence a synonym for Japan who still longs to be "Number 1" no matter what. In certain sense I see the same in the US, who never grew beyond the idea of dominating the world.

Next is China who has to prove its dominance ...

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Another similarity I see in the reaction of Toyota, is that of China, where "a problem is only admitted once it is solved".

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I would like to know what the law says about when a recall should be issued? When should customers get a letter about a defect? There is no doubt that Toyota knew about the sticking gas pedal. Did NHTSA do an investigation into the "Floor Mat Entrapment" and the "Pedal" prior to all this happening last month? If I remember right the accident that caused the death of the police officer and 3 members of his family was in September 2009. My heart goes out to their familys. If the NHTSA did do an investigation what was their conclusion? Did Toyota follow all proper procedure to the extent of the "Floor Mat Entrapment" recall, and the "Pedal" recall before the media was talking about it? Look at how Toyota drivers are freaked out and scare to drive their car because of the media and the U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood first statement about Toyota. With the Toyota recall it seems like everything was done out of order with the media, NHTSA, and Toyota. Maybe that's why Toyota is so slow to the response to the Toyota recall. I would be confused if I have the media, NHTSA, USA Congress, and the Japanese government all at my door demanding answers. This whole thing lead people to panic. The USA media is taking and/or given credit for exposing Toyota. What are the protocols for a recall? If a car company found a defect in their product how should it be handle? If anyone is interested about the accident that caused the death of the police officer and 3 members of his family here is the link http://www.sandiego6.com/mostpopular/story/Santee-CHP-officer-Saylor-killed-Lexus-accelerator/AzYjOhtvFE2mIuxTtxrK4Q.cspx. This article may be of interest as to the floor mat entrapment removal and what the decision of the NHTSA.

Toyota got a lot work of ahead of them and getting back their customers trust. Some may never return and others may think twice about buying a Toyota car.

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I told folks this wouldn't go away. This isn't Japan where you can bow and everyone pretends to forget about it. The Western markets are completely different animals. People are going to want answers as well as large compensations. Toyota's arrogance is going to get them pimp slapped.

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To biglittleman: The Japanese markets are the same - just look at the deal with the tainted gyoza from China a couple of years ago! Families demanding compensation, higher quality standards, the government calling the manufacturers out, boycotting other Chinese products, et cetera. The only difference now is that the faulty product in question comes from Japan itself. The way Toyota has been dragging its feet about the recall because it wants to pretend that there isn't a real problem is going to hurt the company more in the long run than if they had just recalled all the cars right away and admitted that they were completely at fault for the pedal issue.

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Kazan,

You are basically supporting my claim. You examples took place simply because it wasn't a Japanese company but the victims were Japanese. There are limitations in Japan on how much a individual can sue for. If it was Japanese company and Japanese people were the victims then they wouldn't have such an uproar. Some bowing and losing face in public would have been the only real punishment handed out.

This situation is different because unlike being Japan where the court system more often then not supports the company. Even when they are convicted the penalty and compensation is still quite low.

Toyota broke laws on international soil and will be trialed not by western courts. Where there is no limitation on compensation for victims.

People can't sue the pants off of companies in Japan like in Western companies. That is why they are in for a World of Hurt.

Totally different situations like I pointed out.

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I meant: Toyota broke laws on international soil and will be trialed now by western courts.

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in the soup and apparently doesn`t really care all that much.

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Can anyone tell me exactly what the nature of the problem was? Was it just the floor mat trapping the accelerator pedal forcing it down, or was it an actual mechanical defect? And what about the Prius faulty breaks? Any other things Toyota has tried to sweep under the rug?

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I bet the guys at Mitsubishi Fuso are happy bout this whole thing.

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"The world’s press has Toyota under the microscope"

...maybe so

.... but is anyone looking in the microscope??

... because most of the reports I've read skimp on full details or post a news article with a slanted agenda.

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"Cynics may claim the whole issue is merely a foreign-led feeding frenzy against the world’s leading auto manufacturer"

Might be some basis to this because it seems America is more "upset" or making a big deal about this(maybe an agenda) than the say the uk.... where generally they are not so bothered or alot of people mocking the people that are making build deal about.. like learn to drive!!!!

... car recalls happen - nothing new is popular angle in uk... but then again the famous 1970's uk build quality... well cant really criticise... and where are the parts made/designed anyway was the original news - which i just guess fuels the Japanese looking down on other countries abilities when it comes to making things ( even if it has their badge on it).?

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Toyota wanted so badly to be bigger than GM that they cut corners. Toyota's reputation for quality is a legacy more than a current reality. By the way people are gunning for Toyota, that's what happens when you're number one.

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Look at how Japan dealt with Schindler over the one single elevator incident. President had to fly over for a deep bow. Toyota's getting a slap on the wrists. Didn't fly over, didn't make an actual apology bow, didn't face the relatives of the entire family that died, etc.. Pretty deep hypocrisy here.

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Toyota's reputation for quality is a legacy more than a current reality.

Based on what?

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Based on this recallcertainly but also falling JD Power and CR initial quality results.

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Yes, Toyota is responsible to produce faulty parts and sanctions will be applied depending on the country and laws. That's it, all the fuss came after what it was considered the total quality car manufacturer failed to guarantee the safety of certain cars due to parts fault, however how many other makers failed to do so that we do not even know since no "accidents" were highly visible in the press ... it is all about visibility as well.

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Read the latest news, and it turns out Prius has had documented braking problems going back to 2005. It may have gotten suddenly worse in 2010 due to ABS programming, but it's been a recurring problem.

Toyota makes good cars, but when it makes mistakes it needs to own up to them not deny and delay fixing them. I'm always surprised that Toyota is the most popular choice when Hondas are much more reliable overall.

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I'm always surprised that Toyota is the most popular choice when Hondas are much more reliable overall.

I agree!

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Based on this recallcertainly but also falling JD Power and CR initial quality results.

Recalls happen. Toyota has a pretty good record. In the big picture of things, Toyota is going to be just fine.

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Next is China who has to prove its dominance ...

This is a bewildering statement. If a globally known company with decades of international market acceptance and a reputation for high quality can be brought down this simply, what chance does any Chinese maker have when the world questions their quality even before they begin?

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Usaexpat;

"Toyota wanted so badly to be bigger than GM that they cut corners."

I agree with this statement 100%. Becoming #1 literally blinded Toyota execs. The flashing dollar signs, the shiny trophy for the mantel, award ceremonies, ahhh the prestige ! My how quickly the worm can turn.

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As a shareholder corporation, Toyota cares deeply about one thing: future earning power as signalled by share price. As quarterly, then maybe yearly, sales dive, we can trust that Toyota will scramble to fix whatever is wrong with revenues. The problem is, of course, image as pertains to safety. So as shareholders grumble and their stocks fall to historically low levels, their products will be improved and quality will rise. See? Toyota really does care about the safety of their customers, eventually!

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what chance does any Chinese maker have when the world questions their quality even before they begin?...very interesting. The answer is when China can mass produce the equivalent cars of famous Corrolla at more or less 2 dollars a piece!

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