You would have needed an Olympic-style scorecard to keep track of all the changes made to Toyota’s current and potential recall programs. What began as an issue involving – or so Toyota said – loose floor mats in some vehicles has morphed into a public relations nightmare caused by faulty gas pedals on Camrys, Avelons and other models, brake problems on Priuses, drive shaft hazards on Tacoma trucks and steering troubles on Corollas.
The company that consistently produced the best selling and most respected brands in the world showed itself to be the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. Its Tokyo-based bosses have managed to antagonize the U.S. secretary of transportation, confuse millions of Toyota owners, force some drivers to tears on local news programs and become the predictable brunt of late night comedians. The North American operation of Toyota is clearly a branch plant of Japan, which is where key decisions are made and western style corporate governance is uncommon. The fellow the company trotted out in Japan who was wearing a surgical mask as he apologized for the mess was a fitting symbol for just how inept the company has been in handling this crisis.
It took dozens of years and millions of customer transactions to place Toyota in what has been a preeminent position in the global car industry. But it takes a special kind of genius to allow all that to unravel and have the wheels fall off customer confidence in a matter of a few weeks.
Take a bow, Mr. Toyoda, your company has let millions of loyal customers down and in so doing has become our choice for the Outrage of the Week.