Has the term Toyota Customer Satisfaction become an Oxymoron? How can any customer with a Toyota affected by the recent recalls be satisfied?


Not only are the vehicles unsafe to drive because owners don’t know which vehicle might malfunction but Toyota doesn’t even have a fix for the problem. If affected, the guidance is to jam on the breaks, stop the car and call your dealer. But the dealer has no solution to stuck gas pedals. According to  recent articles, Toyota can’t fix the sticking gas pedals yet. Some dealers are providing rentals to affect customers. But this is ‘ad hoc’, not a policy.

The US Government Forced Toyota’s Recall, and Production / Sales Halt

Toyota’s recent quality problems on stuck gas pedals has now forced the company to halt car production AND SALES in North America of the affected models. According to an article by MSNBC called Halting Sales over Recall could Hurt Toyota twice, the US  Government forced these extreme measures on Toyota. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told WGN Radio in Chicago that “the reason Toyota decided to do the recall and to stop manufacturing was because we asked them to”. This is a public relations nightmare. The company had to be ‘asked’ by the government to stop making and selling the cars and issue the recall.

At first, when I heard Toyota was stopping sales and production of affect models,  I thought this was magnanimous of them and that senior management were really concerned about customer safety and satisfaction. But upon hearing that they complied with a US requirement, one has to ask what Toyota’s commitment to customer safety and customer satisfaction really is.

According to another article by MSNBC, recalls have been extended to China and Europe as well. Watch for more action those geographies.

Car Rental Agencies Pull Affected Toyotas out of service

In addition to halted sales and production Toyota has impacted customer satisfaction of its biggest buyers. car rental agencies have pulled the affected Toyota models of  out of service along with the Pontiac Vibe, which has also been recalled, as it is a joint venture with GM and  Toyota.

Enterprise Holdings that owns Alamo Rent a Car, Enterprise Rent-a-car and National Car Rentals says that it has removed about 4% of it’s fleet from service acting out of ‘an abundance of caution’. Avis Budget Group Inc is removing about 20,000 vehicles from its fleet in Canada, US and Puerto Rico. Hertz  also said it would temporarily stop renting affected Toyotas.

These big fleet buyers have to worry about their customer satisfaction.I recently rented a Toyota Yaris in Florida when I was on vacation. It is not one of the affected models but I would not have accepted a rental of any of the models that have been recalled.

Toyota’s customer facing  EcoSystem impacted



If you have an affected Toyota, what do you do? Park the car and wait? Drive and take a chance?  Buy something new? What do you think the trade in value of these cars with sticking gas pedals would be? How does the community react if your neighbor who has one of the affected Toyota’s and is out there driving around, potentially endangering others?  Should local municipalities allow these cars to be driven in their neighborhoods?

In another article  called What Next if your car is in the Toyota Recall? Toyota will only say that the number of incidents  is still under investigation. Doesn’t that make you feel confident?  The implication from Toyota is that their cars are safe to drive. Quoting from the same article “Sean Kane, president of the Massachusetts-based car safety investigation and advocacy group Safety Research and Strategies, said his firm has identified 2,274 incidents of sudden unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles leading to at least 275 crashes and 18 deaths since 1999.”

What is an acceptable level of risk? Who gets to decide what the risk level is? These are not easy questions.

What about the satisfaction of leasing company that owned the leases on these cars and will be getting them back? What happens to the ‘investment’  they have in these cars? Who would want to buy them after the lease is over?  Will every one of them go through the recall / fix process?

What do you think insurance rates will be for the affected cars, now that they have potentially dangerous gas pedals? What about life insurance for drivers who operate an affected vehicle?

Investors are also reacting as Toyota’s profits are expected to be impacted by their recent woes.

Summary

Toyota has a big customer satisfaction problem, not just its direct customers but the entire ecosystem around them:  car rental agencies, leasing companies, insurance organizations and investors, and more I haven’t thought of.

Can Toyota’s quality reputation ever be restored?

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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 “Toyota Customer Satisfaction – an Oxymoron?”

  1. Frank Brinkman Says:

    Adele,

    I believe that Toyota will make a great effort to restore customer appreciation of their quality. It will be a big media campaign, but little else will change in the manufacturing sites. Their focus changed from quality to keeping manufacturing costs down.. This forces short cuts in quality areas..

    Other automobile manufacturers are now offering a rebate for every toyota that is traded in on one of their products… The sharks are circling. Here is the link to GM and Ford offers: http://www.upi.com/Business_News/2010/01/29/Hyundai-offers-rebate-to-Toyota-owners/UPI-52801264795713/

    A interview with one of the Toyota dealership owners said that the gas pedal fix does not fully resolve all of the issues. None of the people that got killed in the cars had a bad gas pedal according to the interview..

    It is very interesting that even the Japanese government has told Toyota that they must fix the problem.

    In a separate story, Toyota changed CEO’s about 2 years ago. The new CEO went on a campaign to reduce manufacturing costs. Sound familar?? The Toyota company took it’s eyes off of the quality goal and pursued cost reductions to increase profit. The cost of the loss of quality is not measurable. When they get through this debaucle they will know the cost exceeded their wildest fears just in costs to fix the problem alone.

    The damage to the reputation of Toyota is uncalcuable. Will they get it back? NO!

    Regards, Frank

  2. Gail Atcheson Says:

    Toyota executives are currently testifying before Congress about the safety issues that have led to the recall of millions of vehicles. They insist that “We are confident that no problems exist with the electronic throttle control system in our vehicles.”

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