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February 3, 2010
Toyota Sputters on Crisis Management

Toyota's response to its acceleration problems is drawing nasty crisis management reviews. The Malaysian Insider  says Toyota Motor Corp's  public relations is "floundering" in the crisis. 

"Toyota," the report adds, "has consistently played down recurring complaints of unintended acceleration, breaking what PR experts said is the cardinal rule in crisis management: assume the worst."

Suhel Seth, a brand management expert in India and a managing partner of Counselage, is quoted on the acceleration recall: "It is an absolute disaster for a company which is Japanese, which has top-notch quality control, to have done it in such a spluttering manner."

If you recall when Jim Lentz, Toyota's top U.S. executive, was interviewed Monday on the "Today" show, he said the unintended acceleration issue (as distinct from entrapment of the accelerator pedal in floor mats) was first indicated last October.

Now we see U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood saying in a statement, "While Toyota is taking responsible action now, it unfortunately took an enormous effort to get to this point. DOT officials flew to Japan in December to remind Toyota management about its legal obligations and followed up with a meeting at DOT headquarters in January to insist that they address the accelerator pedal issue."

Toyota announced a recall of 2.3 million vehicles on Jan. 21 because of sticking gas pedals and another 1 million a week later. While a fix may not have been available until then, couldn't cautionary guidance have been issued sooner?

It seems Toyota may have more to be concerned with on the acceleration issue than whether one of its executives in Japan made a traditional deep bow yesterday before he acknowledged the recall problems. (He didn't.)

The timeliness of an acknowledgement and whether or not it identifies with likely public concerns -- even if there's not an immediate fix -- is a cardinal crisis-management principle. 

Now comes a report in Taiwan News that Toyota acknowledges "dozens of complaints in North America and Japan about brake failure on its top-selling Prius hybrid." 

"As of the end of last year, we had dozens of complaints from dealers in Japan and North America," Toyota spokeswoman Mieko Iwasaki said.

The end of last year was a month ago. Wasn't it?








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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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