Customer Satisfaction processes call for addressing issues with customers squarely and fairly. So far, Toyota has not done this well.  Embarrassing evidence keeps surfacing and public relations efforts have limited success.

Lawmakers Blast Toyota Chief despite his Apology.

Toyota’s President Akio Toyoda  addressed the US Congressional hearings this week but failed to satisfy the Congress and the Public about  the remorse the company feels for the negative impacts of its actions (or lack of actions) . Toyota insists its acceleration problems are caused by mechanical problems. But the US Lawmakers and others believe it could be an electrical problem.

Toyota caught Bragging About Savings from Limiting Recalls.

The US government has pressed Toyota to submit documents as it investigates how much about the current recall problems it knew in the past. The most damning evidence of a corporation looking the wrong way on Customer Satisfaction is the emergence of  a presentation  from July 6, 2009 called ‘”Wins for Toyota — Safety Group” part of which brags about negotiating a  limited recall with the US government on Camry /ES models  that saved Toyota $100 Million+.  It also talks about an avoided investigation on Tacoma Rust (Tacoma’s are now being recalled, for a rust problem).

In an effort to control the devastating public relations problem this document exposed, Toyota posted on its US Website:

“Our first priority is the safety of our customers and to conclude otherwise on the basis of one internal presentation is wrong,” said the statement. “Our values have always been to put the customer first and ensure the highest levels of safety and quality. Our recently announced top-to-bottom quality review of all company operations, along with new quality initiatives and a renewed commitment to transparency, are all designed to reaffirm these values.”

In my opinion, this statement is insulting. Toyota needs to tell the truth. Toyota lost its focus and changed priorities in the past few years.  I do believe, that now that this has all been exposed, Toyota really wants to put Quality and Safety back on the top of its priority list.  The presentation was a reflection of what was ‘rewarded’ in the organization at that time. Saving money was more important than saving lives and property of Toyota’s customers.  What gets measured and rewarded gets done.  Management culture has to be changed from top to bottom.

The fact that Toyota claim they  are going to do a quality review of all company operations sounds nice. But having worked in a large corporation, it’s hard to turn a big ship around. The study of ‘all company operations’ of a company Toyota’s size could take years. The public needs to know there is immediate action being taken on the root cause of the issues.

Toyota forced to provide US recall customers with additional services.

Toyota has been pressured by the US lawmakers, particularly in the State of New York, into announcing no charge services for customers affect by the recall. Toyota said customers can expect “expediting scheduling of the repair, pick up and return of the vehicle by a dealership representative, and driving the customer to the dealership or to his or her place of work.” It will also “where necessary, [provide] other alternate transportation for the customer, such as a rental car, loaner vehicle, or taxi reimbursement for the reasonable period that the customer is unable or unwilling to use his or her car,” the automaker said.

Watch for other countries to ask for this.

Toyota withheld key data in Crash Lawsuits

Another interesting article is the one about Dimitrios Biller, the former managing counsel of Toyota’s U.S.-based product liability group. Biller, who worked at Toyota from 2003 to 2007, dealt with lawsuits against the company for vehicle rollover crashes. He found they had a database of testing data about potential problems called the Book of Knowledge . Biller advised Toyota to reveal the test data in trials and was forced out of his job. He filed a wrongful dismissal case and his case was settled handsomely out of court.

The Congressional hearings continue to investigate these issues which all point to a concerted effort to conceal safety problems.

Toyota Crisis may clear a man jailed in fatal crash

The press has found stories of crash survivors or crash deaths that are allegedly due to the problems with Toyota acceleration  or brake problems. An interesting story emerged about other impacts of the Toyota recall.  Koua Fong Lee is a 32-year-old Hmong refugee from Laos serving an eight-year sentence in a Minnesota state prison. His car that sped out of his control was a 1996 Camry and it had a recall shortly after it was released. But that was not brought up in the trial. Now the prosecutor and family affected by the deaths originally attributed to Koua Fong Lee’s driving, will be re-evaluated based on current evidence. Have unavoidable acceleration problems been around since 1996?


Failure to address quality  and customer satisfaction issues can certainly impact people’s lives in so many ways: Death, becoming incapacitated or crippled, losing the ability to earn a living and even being sentenced to jail for failure to drive carefully. Toyota needs to understand the impact of its lack of action.

Toyota Apologizes in China.

There have been criticism of the US Government for picking on Toyota because of the decline of the Big Three Big US Automakers, in which the US owns substantial shares. But Toyota is not only facing the wrath of the US.  After his appearance at a US Congressional hearing, Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda went to China where he apologized on Monday Mar 1, 2010 for the recalls in that country. About 75,000 Rav4 were recalled for potentially defective accelerator pedals. China is the largest car market in the world now. Toyoda promised to work towards regaining the confidence of the Chinese consumer with regards to safety and quality.

“I sincerely apologize to Chinese people for causing concern and trouble over Toyota’s massive recalls around the world, including in China.” said Toyoda.

Other countries:

Canada plans a probe into Toyota recalls.

In Nigeria, Toyota blames accelerator pedal problem on the cold

The press release from Toyota says in part: “The rare occurrence of the accelerator pedal defect has been reported in geographical areas that have cold climate where heater is used. In such climates, there is a tendency for excessive water/moisture condensation which may form on the friction surface of the accelerator pedal leading to consequent wear and tear manifesting in Toyota vehicles. However, Toyota has already initiated steps to implement corrective measures in all the markets that may have received such vehicles.”

Has anyone in North America  seen an explanation that says that the Toyota accelerator pedal is only  happening in ‘cold’  climates? That’s a first one for me.

The question in my mind is who is orchestrating the public relations communication worldwide? The response to the growing crisis hardly seems in control.

What is your perspective? Leave your comments below.

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Adele Berenstein

Adele Berenstein is an Experienced Customer Satisfaction Executive, recently retired from a Large Global IT Organization after a long productive management career including Sales, Marketing, Services, teaching and education center management and most recently, 19 years in customer satisfaction management. She turned around divisions with customer satisfaction problems, implemented measurable improvements and management systems, and implemented programs to prevent problems from ever affecting customers.

2 Responses to “Customer Relations at Toyota Failing?”

  1. Frank Brinkman Says:

    I can still recall the president of USA Toyota saying there is not a problem with electronics in Toyotas. Then, we have seen a university professor duplicate the type of problem with Toyota with no error data being recorded. As I expected even with the sticky gas pedal recall fixed the customers driving Toyotas are experiencing the acceleration problems. Here is a link to a story in the Los Angeles Times: http://www.latimes.com/classified/automotive/highway1/la-fi-toyota-complaints5-2010mar05,0,5145202.story?track=rss&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+latimes%2Fclassified%2Fautomotive%2Fhighway1+%28Los+Angeles+Times+-+Highway+1%29

    Toyota is now investigating acceleration problems in the electronic system. The Toyota manufacturing engineers and customer service will stay focused on getting the acceleration issue resolved. The company will also continue to expand advertising to repair consumer brand quality confidence. This will need to be a multi-year project.

  2. Toyota pays $1.1 Billion in accelorator recall lawsuit | Customer Satisfaction and Reputation Management Says:

    […] of its vehicles, the most notorious of which was the unintended acceleration of its vehicles and its failure to notify both the US Government and consumers. Recalls and Lawsuits mounted. Toyota faced a $16.4 Million dollar fine in April 5, 2010 and had two […]

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