As a symbolic first step, Toyota executives are apologizing repeatedly. CEO Katsuaki Watanabe says the recalls and a sexual-harassment case in the United States are "leaving people to wonder if Toyota remains sound."While bowing ain't gonna fix the problem, admitting you have a problem is a good first step.
He bowed deeply at a press conference in Tokyo to "express my earnest apologies."
"I'm ashamed as a carmaker that we caused worries among our customers," says Akio Toyoda, executive vice president for purchasing and quality and a scion of the company's founding family. "These are the customers who selected Toyota thinking that Toyota vehicles would be safe."Ashamed! Man, these dudes take it seriously. Can you imagine Bill Ford saiding, "Holy cow, were those cars bad. Good thing I'm still insanely rich"? Oh, wait, that is what he said!*
Anyway, there's good reason to be concerned about Toyota. Their rocket ship ride to the top has left a lot of cars shaken up and been the cause for a lot of recalls.
Last week, the company recalled 418,570 cars worldwide, all made in 2001. That includes 34,700 Priuses, Echos and other cars sold in the United States.We hope Toyota gets it together soon. And we hope all automakers take this as a sign that not even the best are the best forever.
Since the early 1990s Toyota has been rated tops in reliability and manufacturing excellence by third-parties such as the J.D. Power & Associates quality survey firm. But in recent years the gap between Toyota and rivals has narrowed.You know, that might be true. Hell, we might even be guilty of it. But it's still Detroit's fault. If you build shitty cars for over a generation, guess what? You alienate a lot of people. So many, in fact, that we know more people who say "My dad's a Honda guy" rather than "My dad's a Ford man" like we did when we were growing up.
U.S. auto executives often find themselves on the defensive for failing to match or surpass Toyota. They grumble, usually off the record, that Toyota is coasting on previous accomplishments rather than current performance.
"When an American car company stages a recall, we see blaring headlines and hysterical rhetoric about the lousy quality of American-made cars and trucks," wrote Jason Vines, vice president of public affairs for DaimlerChrysler AG in a company blog on Oct. 24, 2005.
"But when one of the Teflon-coated automakers screws up, it's a blip given minimal play -- usually in the 'briefs' section" of the news report, he said, referring to Toyota and Honda Motor Co.
Detroit is now learning that it takes a lot more effort to win back a customer than to retain a customer. It remains to be seen whether Toyota will face the same problem.
*We kid Bill Ford. He's rich and could have us killed. So we kid, we kid. Sheesh. Now please put the gun down. Wait, that's not a gun; it's a silver spoon. Is that a spork? Oh, it's a grapefruit spoon? Man, you are a fancy lad!