Monday, February 22, 2010

Moving Forward

Toyota, oh Toyota. Where once you were the manufacturer to emulate, now you are the butt of lawsuits, jokes and senate inquiries alike. How the mighty have fallen.

It's a long video, but the key elements are at 3:50, 4:34 and 4:48. Ultimately, it is a news story about the issues that Toyota cars are facing. It goes on to explain that Toyota, in the early days of this problem, argued that the acceleration problems were attributed to one of two things: faulty floor mats that were incompatible with the car, or installed incorrectly; and driver error.

At the 3:50 mark, there is a video that was put on the Toyota website from Bob Daly, a Toyota executive, where he states "It is important to know that no defect exists in which the driver's side floor mat is compatible with the vehicle and properly secured". With one of the first fatal crashes involving sudden acceleration, Toyota blamed driver error, saying that the driver likely mistakenly pushed the gas pedal instead of the brake. The driver's wife died.

In another, non-fatal, incident (at 4:34), two Toyota faithfuls contacted Toyota and warned them that they had been involved in an accident, because their car accelerated by itself. Toyota said it was likely bad brakes. Then in July of 2009, a California State Patrolman and his family died when their Lexus accelerated through a red light and collied with another vehicle in the intersection. This prompted the James' to start a YouTube campaign detailing stories of Toyotas accelerating out of control. In the video, the James' state "Toyota ignored us", and because of the death of the Patrolman and his family, they were prompted to start this campaign.

The Associated Press recently released documents from a Toyota meeting in July 2009 (the same month the Patrolman and his family died), outlining the $100 M+ that Toyota saved by successfully lobbying to have a limited recall of its Camry and ES350 models regarding their floor mats. The documents released came with the title, "Wins for Toyota - Safety Group".

Backstory now complete, what is the overall ramification for Toyota? Their brand has been democratized - it is no longer within their control. That, accompanied with the fact that they are being pummeled by media and governments alike, translates into very likely tough times ahead for the world's largest automaker. The real question is can Toyota retain its position in consumer's minds? Ford went through a similar fiasco with its tires in the early 1990's, and they've only now gotten back to the average mark.

So, congratulations Toyota, you win again. Your safety record is now on par with Pinto and Geely. You are Moving Forward... suddenly, uncontrollably and unable to stop.

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