February 19th, 2010
06:30 AM GMT
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Tune in to CNN on any given day, or to any other network for that matter, and there’s a good chance Toyota’s recall troubles will be near the top of the newscast. Whether it’s sticky gas pedals, bad brakes or new government investigations, the world’s top automaker has given news media plenty of material.

Media coverage has been intense , with much of the focus on what Toyota knew, when, and why they were so slow to react. What started as a recall has turned into a full-fledged scandal. And all the attention is raising questions about whether the company, and Japan for that matter, is being treated fairly.

The issue is clearly on the minds of some in Japan. Government minister Mizuho Fukushima said in an interview with Bloomberg News  last week if Toyota had responded sooner, it wouldn’t have resulted in Japan and Toyota bashing.  There are those in Japan who suggest the U.S. response was really an attempt to discredit Japanese car makers and boost domestic ones.

True, Toyota’s troubles seem to have evolved far beyond automotive shortcomings. They’ve evolved into a PR disaster. Lawsuits have been filed, government investigations are underway, and U.S. lawmakers have jumped into the fray.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that discussions about Toyota’s recent woes have moved beyond the cars themselves. Companies can be more than just a business. Take the recent takeover battle between Kraft and Britain’s Cadbury. For some in the UK, Cadbury was more than just a chocolate maker, it was an icon – and they were less than thrilled about a U.S. corporate giant swallowing it up. In Japan, Toyota is more than just a car maker. It’s a company that symbolizes the nation’s rise to economic might – a pillar of Japan Inc.

But underneath the politics, the rhetoric and the pride , there is something that shouldn’t be forgotten. Recalls can be serious business, especially if the problems raise safety concerns. And, unfortunately for Toyota, these problems do. Is Toyota the victim of a bandwagon bashing? Maybe. In the end does it really matter? No.

Toyota may be a Japanese company, but it also is a global company operating in an age of 24-hour news cycles, Twitter and Facebook. To maintain its position as a global leader, it must maneuver in the modern media age with same drive that turned it into the largest automaker in the world.

soundoff (38 Responses)
  1. George

    Why is it that all of a sudden Toyota stopped making flawless cars? And how come this is happening in the States only? Is it because the Administration wants to push the sales of American cars? What a way to say and prove that American cars are the worst ever. I have two Toyota cars, one of them for 7 years now. They never suffered or were never repaired beyond the regular service. I look at the Arab world were Toyota owns the biggest part of the market. I never heard such unconvincing stories.
    The media is doing an excellent job by defacing the history and success stories of Toyota. A thing the American and european cars could not sustain.
    Mr Obama is waging another war, but this time it is against Mr Toyoda. That is quite a collection now.

    February 19, 2010 at 7:29 am |
  2. vesuvio

    Many years ago the Audi 5000 was the victim of this phenomenon. Stories started spreading about the gas pedal sticking and causing uncontrollable acceleration. The fact that the stories were not true did not stop the rumors from driving the car off the American market.

    In reality, people were accidentally stepping on the gas instead of the brake, which is something that happens occasionally in all models of cars. Most of the time, people realize their mistake and switch to the correct pedal, but not always. In the Audi 5000's case, people consistently said, "I was pushing down on the brake pedal as hard as I could, but the car kept accelerating." This is what drivers often say after they run over crowds of people in airports or markets. In the Audi 5000, no mechanical defect was ever found.

    The harm the rumors caused was two-fold. First, they slandered a good brand. But more significantly, they put Audi owners in the mindset that their cars might suffer this problem. So when they made that mistake, of pressing on the gas pedal instead of the brake, they were much more likely to think it was the car's fault and not try to fix the problem themselves. Instead they'd freeze at the controls, floor the accelerator, and crash through the back wall of their garage.

    The fact that this problem is "spreading" to other Toyota models is a strong indicator that that's the real problem in this case as well. CNN should talk about this. By jumping on the bandwagon and spreading hysteria, CNN is putting people in danger.

    February 19, 2010 at 7:48 am |
  3. Fred A. Lewis

    I can't help but think that the US Government is acting in a "Conflict of Interest"...
    They are, after all, a very large shareholder / investor in a couple of Toyota's competitors in the USA & Worldwide and their non-arms-length ability to cause or facilitate widespread consumer reaction to their own biggest competitor business is inappropriate...
    The FACTS are simple – If Toyota suffers at the hands of overzealous legislators in the US then their own investments in failed US Automakers will grow or pay dividends – - – can't get more of a conflict than that......

    February 19, 2010 at 7:50 am |
  4. wailun

    i think the japanese need to be less defensive and focus on the issue – car & consumer safety. as the japanese foreign minister rightly pointed out, had toyota reacted earlier & decisively, it would not have the current PR disaster. toyota is a great company and likewise consumers worldwide have high expectations. it is not about japan or toyota bashing; it is called disappointing your customer. accusation of japan bashing is a short sighted & convenient excuse for poor quality. i am a toyota fan & in no doubt toyota will recover from this debacle to be a better carmaker

    February 19, 2010 at 8:12 am |
  5. Andrew

    Glad I sold my 2007 Camry last year before any of this came out. Not because I think there is anything wrong with the Camry (I don't), but because I would have received a far smaller trade-in allowance now than I did then.

    February 19, 2010 at 8:18 am |
  6. Andrew

    My daughter won't start driving until June, but the bashing Toyota is taking has led to some steep discounts at the local Toyota dealer. Maybe I'll pick up a new 2010 Corolla and just keep it in the garage for four months.

    February 19, 2010 at 8:19 am |
  7. ijaz

    world can do what they like but they can never compete or run down the quality toyota can produce. Jelousy nothing else!!!!

    February 19, 2010 at 8:49 am |
  8. Uzisero

    If it happened once, it's an accident.

    If it happened twice, it's a coincidence.

    If it happened three times in a row, well...

    I just find it weird that all of a sudden all these "dangers" in driving a Toyota is now suddenly cropping up everywhere.

    I smell big US auto lobby money here...

    February 19, 2010 at 9:38 am |
  9. imyeti

    with the tariffs that other countrys place on our importad goods . i think alls fair in love and war!

    February 19, 2010 at 9:43 am |
  10. vic

    i own a toyota and it works just fine. i wonder how US versions are made but i still have a complete faith in toyota. their cars still sells like hotcake in my country..

    February 19, 2010 at 10:24 am |
  11. mjs

    creating paranoia to make money can backfire on the media.

    February 19, 2010 at 11:40 am |
  12. David

    Concerning George's comment- about Mr. Obama waging war... which is to say, Mr. Obama controls the media establishment. That is very interesting, since he is not especially in good standing with it. That means he is both 1) driving his own ratings downward, and 2) controlling the media attack on Japan and Toyota. Wow, he must be a lot more clever than anyone imagined! George, that is the best lousy argument I have heard in a while...

    February 19, 2010 at 12:46 pm |
  13. tony


    February 19, 2010 at 12:50 pm |
  14. Joe

    Actually – Toyota is recalling cars in Europe and Japan, as well. Including Citroen and Peugeot cars with Toyota parts. So this is not just a US Automaker witchhunt...

    February 19, 2010 at 1:43 pm |
  15. Joe

    Remember the American Ford Pinto? 180 deaths – Ford allegedly was aware of this design flaw but refused to pay for a redesign. Instead, it was argued, Unfortunately many many deaths must occur for US auto mfg's to accept a flaw. Thankfully Toyota is not so ignorant.

    February 19, 2010 at 1:47 pm |
  16. Rowny J.Vidot

    When you are the number one automaker in the world it is normal to make enemies which hinge around jealousy. No matter what I find it very hard to see any other auto company( with their current sales figures taking over the top spot of Toyota in the short/medium term, the sales gap is just too big. Toyota will eventually catch up mabye through a series of well orchestrated public relations camgaign particularly through the press, discounts on their automobiles which would make it irrestible for the consummer to back away ( don't forget they have deep pockets to sustain for a while) together with other incentives aimed at rebuilding their image and pride. Although it could take some time before their reputation to produce quality cars which is synonymous to legend is re-established, don't forget consummers forget very quickly. Don't forget, out of the 8 million or so cars that have been recalled , how many has actually caused deaths, and how many are facing the "prevention better than cure situation".

    February 19, 2010 at 1:53 pm |
  17. richie

    I couldnt help thinking when I saw the (would you buy a Toyota) survey...surely, a more telling survey would be "would you buy an American car" I think the toyota bashing is a tad over the top, the Japanese have done much for passenger safety over the years. perspective is needed.... no one seems to notice the other manufacturers recalls recently...VW for example...

    February 19, 2010 at 2:08 pm |
  18. daz

    america will try to discredit toyota but its not gonna work toyota over the years have built strong and dependable cars.

    February 19, 2010 at 2:13 pm |
  19. Jason

    I was never a Toyota fan simply because where I live everyone loves all cars and trucks in the Toyota line...so I do not want to jump on the band wagon and get a Toyota also. With that said I will have to say that here Toyotas have great resale value, probably because of their Legionary quality. None of the models here have been affected by any of the recalls unless it was purchased in the us market and imported.
    I do believe that there is some form of media bashing as part of my job requires constant new monitoring for one reason or another, I can say with confidence that only very recently has the media seem to care the people were having problems with their Toyotas.
    It does seem very one-sided. However I think that in a few years or so when Toyota starts pumping out vehicles of even higher quality at even better prices to recover from this mess that the balance will return to what it was before this. Maybe this Toyota skeptic may even get one of my own....come on Toyota convince me to get one!
    I think they will recover. But I will NOT jump on this band wagon of bashing.

    February 19, 2010 at 2:20 pm |
  20. R Blacklock

    It's very obvious that the U.S. government is not treating Toyota as they would treat a domestic producer. If you look far enough in the future it makes one wonder where Toyota (and perhaps Honda/Nissan etc.) will build future production in North America and if these actions by the U.S. government won't ultimately backfire.

    February 19, 2010 at 2:27 pm |
  21. Frank

    I am a long-term fan of the Toyota cars; they never failed. The purpose of all this bashing is just to push a reliable carmaker from the market to allow U.S. car companies to grow.

    February 19, 2010 at 2:51 pm |
  22. Chris

    As the U.S. Government is on of the largest shareholders in a couple of domestic automotive companies I smell a total whitewash on this one. What a conflict of interest. Oh, and why no congressional investigations on the millions of recalls done by Ford, GM and Chrysler?

    Oh yeah, no political points for slamming the employers of your constituents.. As usual politics for Washington. Why am I not surprised.

    February 19, 2010 at 3:26 pm |
  23. michael

    I own Toyota's and will stand by the brand- Toyota's mistake was new factories ,new models and building them in the US with inexperienced workers ,They had problems with Trucks when they upsized them ( Tail gates ,etc ) along with other models and they wanted to be #1 so bad they put Quality control 2nd -They will do the right thing in the long run, It will be a expensive lesson and the US Car company s will get a bump in sales ( much Needed ) I for one will still Buy a toyota first and now is a great time for a deal

    February 19, 2010 at 3:45 pm |

    I am beginning to think the Toyota travail is the outcome of western conspiracy. How come the toyota problem is mainly in the US and Europe? I have a toyota car imported from the US and another imported from Europe, yet I have not experienced any problems with them beyond the usual servicing/maintenance. America is waging a war on Toyota to pave way for a revival of its recession-ravaged and corruption-ridled auto industry.

    February 19, 2010 at 4:05 pm |
  25. Rajeev

    I've been using Camry for last 14 years. Kept the first one for 5 years and traded that in for a newer one in 2001. There was nothing wrong with that – I just had more spare money and wanted a newer car :-)
    My current 2001 Camry -
    - has112k miles on it
    - never did anything major (just regular oil changes – sets of new tires)
    It can still beat a new Impala or Taurus in a heartbeat!
    - It is still as quiet as it was when new (well may be 10% more engine noise) BUT NO RATTLING AT ALL from anywhere in the car
    - still drives as smooth as it was when new

    AND NO – while the 0% for 72 months from Toyota on Camry is unheard of
    I'm NOT BUYING a new one

    February 19, 2010 at 5:21 pm |
  26. Jeff

    Why is nobody talking about the Pontiac Vibe recall initiated on 2/8 for a sticking accelerator pedal ?

    February 19, 2010 at 5:48 pm |
  27. MJK

    I am Japanese myself, and I strongly believe that Toyota is somehow being bashed. However Toyota's late response is certainly not an uncommon practice in Japanese society, and that's the core issue of ALL of our problems. Lack of communication. Should this behavior continue, countries with a more aggresive marketing practice and relative good technology like Korea, will soon overtake us. A very dangerous thought for my economy.

    February 19, 2010 at 6:47 pm |
  28. hideaki nagano

    network,doors sound,I think management.

    February 20, 2010 at 7:42 am |
  29. bubule"

    I am amaze at how strongly the company have become and overtaking GM for the number one spot. i think toyota shud stop and think of why this has happened. my advise is to go slow on your lean management style. this has affected the quality of your product. focus more on the technical and quality issues. no shortcuts on the technical level.

    February 20, 2010 at 1:28 pm |
  30. chuck

    I have worked in the automotive industry in a variety of capacities for over 30 years. What I absolutely know is that no vehicle that I have ever seen is without a design flaw. Some are more serious than others. But these are complicated pieces of machinery that are designed and built by people who have the best intentions (99% of the time). What disturbs me is that all car manufacturers have been forced to cut costs in order to stay competitive. The result has been less rigorous product testing and higher repair costs for consumers. The media is so conspiracy-obsessed that companies like Toyota receive much unwarranted criticism when things go wrong, while journalists fail to address the more serious issues. The truth is that a bullet-proof car would be both unaffordable and impractical. Finally, why doesn't anyone push for a national inspection and maintenance program for all registered autos? There are countless unsafe vehicles on the road today whose owners have been told that by qualified repair professionals that their vehicles are in dire need of repair. Not Toyota, not anyone, can build a vehicle that can be ill-maintained yet expected to perform flawlessly. Seems to me that owner negligence is a far more pressing issue.

    February 21, 2010 at 2:33 pm |
  31. Gaijin in Japan

    The funny thing is ..... 6 months ago, Japan did a cash for clunkers program (where gov money is being given to Japanese people who buy a new car in exchange for their clunker – Sort of the same thing the US did.) But Japan gov is not allowing any cash for any US car makers. Sounds like "US bashing" by the Japanese Gov to me?

    In the US we allowed Toyota cars in the program ... and I bet you my hard earned dollar that my tax money eventually found itself in Japan .....

    So I am happy that my congressman is setting a tit for tat straight!

    February 22, 2010 at 10:39 am |
  32. Avrailer (Jeremii)

    Although i wasn't born in Japan i am half japanese therefore i can say that
    world can do what they like but they can never compete or run down the quality toyota can produce. Jelousy nothing else!!!!
    I comp[letely agree they were trying to blame Japan for not wanting another AMERICAN base in Okinawa

    (curious steve February 17th, 2010 1735 GMT

    do as we say, japan, not as we do.)

    This made me mad whoever curious steve is (this was said in the blog 'Japan slow to embrace corporate openess'

    If any one would like to further this conversation i am open mon-fri!


    February 22, 2010 at 8:29 pm |
  33. A. Smith, Oregon

    Absolutely Toyota has been bashed and falsely branded by the anti-foreign band-wagon. During a large economic downturn, I suspect many of the claims were bogus, created to cover up their inept reckless driving or explain away blame on a vehicle accident they caused.

    No one has ever demonstrated how any Toyota make or model is prevented from being shifted into NEUTRAL the moment the engine is running.

    No one has ever demonstrated how the relatively small Toyota motor is stronger at full throttle than FOUR disk brakes fully locked.

    No one has ever demonstrated how any Toyota make or model motor is prevented from immediately shutting down the moment the driver turns the ignition to the accessory position.

    And yet, all of these reports state, 'Couldn't shift to Neutral', Brakes couldn't stop it' and they 'couldn't turn the engine off'.

    All of these are independent of one another. Seems to me a great many of these claims are BOGUS CLAIMS made by people trying to rake in monetary claims against a respectable company.

    February 27, 2010 at 6:22 am |
  34. Chris

    Vesuvio & A. Smith(Oregon) , you are right.
    Also, a person who is not able to stop a car with stuck accelerator shouldn't be allowed to drive, period.

    March 1, 2010 at 3:31 pm |
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