February 19th, 2010
06:30 AM GMT
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.
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