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