It was reported April 1st that Toyota sales went UP during the month of March.
In the heart of a recall, one that got no support from the press mind you, Toyota managed to increase sales by 35.3% for the same period as last year. This is a ridiculous testament to the reliability of the brand and the loyalty of its customers.
Even though the crisis management was less than impressive, and Toyota’s response to the issues were slow and somewhat sketchy at the beginning, the brand has pulled through.
So I have talked a lot about what I think went wrong with the PR during the 2009/2010 Toyota recall, and it’s about time I put my two cents in.
A contingency plan should consist of the exact actions that should be taken under different crisis-like circumstances. In my opinion, based on recent events, it should be Toyota’s policy that if a recall scare arises, they should give themselves only three to five days to test the problem. If in that time they can’t firmly say there is NO problem, the vehicles in question should be recalled.
- This can reduce panic because if that is public policy, customers will be more willing to comply.
- This displays that the company is more concerned with customer safety than with losing money through a recall.
- The company CAN afford to do an early recall, especially if it means retaining customers and maintaining their loyalty.
During the Recall:
- Offer excellent service (which they have been doing) during recall procedures.
- Give every customer $50 off $100 or more of service, so they can use that later on tune-ups and other standard maintenance checks.
- Release commercials and statements explaining exactly what is going on as soon as they are aware so that the public is on the same page.
- BE HONEST about what is happening, because as we have found, the truth always comes out!
After the Recall:
- Once it is certain that the issues are fixed, let everyone know. Offer celebration deals and services to ALL customers, not just owners of the recalled vehicles.
I think that these small policies can greatly help Toyota if they ever encounter another recall crisis (I hope they don’t!)
And, Mr. Lentz, if you are at all interested in having Joan Gladstone come in, which I still STRONGLY encourage, please contact me at email@example.com. I think that could be the best things you do for your company. Your brand is only as strong as it’s weakest moments, and this one is pretty weak. Make Toyota owners like me proud again, and do the right thing!
SO FUNNY! I am sitting in a class right now and my professor is talking about his first job in California. He worked at a used Ford dealership. He only worked for one day. Guess why…
On his first day a poor family came in and was going to buy an older Ford Mustang. My professor knew it was crappy. The handles were falling off and he was sure it would only last a year, tops. He pulled the man of the house aside and told him not to buy it. He suggested that the man walk across the street to the Toyota dealership and buy a used Corolla for the same amount of money, because they are way more reliable. The man did just that.
When his manager found out, he was fired immediately. I think this story is great because it really shows people’s trust in the brand. I have no idea if my professor even drives a Toyota today, but to him in is common knowledge that Toyota produces quality cars.
A friend of my mother’s took his 2010 Toyota Corolla in for the recall this weekend, and I was able to sit down with him and discuss his experience.
About two months ago Andrew received his recall notice in the mail. The letter instructed him to go to his nearest dealer in order to get his car updated free of charge.
He took his new car to Tustin Toyota in Santa Ana, CA. He explained to me that the employees were all very nice. He had made an appointment and was helped right away. Since he needed to get his first maintenance check as well, he did that at the same time. According to Andrew, both the recall and maintenance services took no more than two hours.
As far as the recall goes, the dealership had to put in a metal rod behind the pedal to fix the sticking problem.
After the service was done the dealership gave him a Starbucks gift card for any inconvenience.
Andrew told me that, for what it was, it was a pleasant experience and that his trust in the Toyota brand still remains (as long as the problem is fixed, of course).
I was personally very pleased to hear that Toyota dealerships have been going out of their way to make the owners of the recalled models feel comfortable and safe. Obviously it is inconvenient for a car owner to have to bring their car in for a problem it might not even had, but when they have a good experience while they’re there, they get a new sense of appreciation and loyalty.
The new Toyota commercials are finally a step in the right direction for Toyota’s PR. They feature actual Toyota owners taking their cars in for recall.
When I first saw these commercials, I thought they were a little predictable. After thinking about it, I came to the conclusion that they were better than continuing to run regular Toyota commercials without addressing the issue.
These commercials show a real perspective from customers that trust the brand, and believe in the company so much, that they are willing to drive even during the recall. It’s a great way to help consumers feel good about the product again.
One positive thing that has come from so much recall press coverage is that they don’t even have to mention the recall in the commercial. It is understood by viewers that these people are purchasing and driving Toyota vehicles despite the recent events.
This has been a great move for the company, but has come pretty late in the game. I still urge Jim Lentz to bring Joan Gladstone in to help out, because he needs to be better prepared for next time (hopefully there won’t be a next time, but they probably said that before this time so…)
Just for fun, I LOVE this Toyota commercial. It shows that it’s common knowledge that Toyota’s don’t break down:
MSNBC has a great timeline that covers exactly what happened, for those of you who haven’t been following. Here is what has happened:
911 is called when the owner of a Lexus ES 350 discovers his accelerator is stuck. He crashed while still on the phone, and all four people in the car were killed.
Toyota recalls 3.8 million floor-mats in U.S. vehicles because they may have caused the accelerator to get stuck. The company insists there is no “vehicle-based cause” for the problems.
Toyota recalls millions of vehicles to fix a problem that “could have caused the accelerator pedals to stick even without the presence of floor mats.” Recall includes the Rav4, Corolla, Camry and Highlander.
Sales are were suspended of popular models like the Corolla and Camry to fix the sticking pedal problem. Toyota also said it would stop production at five manufacturing facilities for the week of Feb. 1.
General Motors offers incentives to Toyota owners who want to swap their car for a GM model.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood sharply criticizes Toyota’s response to the gas pedal concerns, saying Toyota may be “a little safety deaf.” The next day, he warns Americans not to drive the recalled cars, but later says that was a misstatement and that concerned drivers should take their cars to the dealer.
President and CEO Akio Toyoda apologizes for the car recalls and promises to beef up quality control. “I apologize from the bottom of my heart for all the concern that we have given to so many customers.”
Jim Lentz, top U.S. executive for Toyota, testified before a House committee and said that the company is still investigating whether electronics of the gas pedal system may be at fault.
Over the three and a half years that I have had my Rav4, I have gotten a lot of slack for not “buying American.” Granted, this has mostly come from people like my grandpa from Illinois, who will drive his 1971 Buick for the rest of his life, despite the fact that he has to fix it every five minutes. In my defense, I used to have an American made car, and it was, for lack of a better description, a piece of shit.
My other grandparents gave me a 2000 Pontiac GrandAm when I got my license in 2005. Naturally, I was excited to drive anything with an engine, but quickly came to hate my little silver sports car. Here are just a few things that were wrong with the car when I got it:
- The air-conditioning worked on two speeds: off and hurricane
- The driver-side window did not roll down (which gave me an unwanted break from fast-food for a while)
- The speedometer worked until about 70 mph, then freaked out
- The clock and radio display occasionally showed the time and station, but usually just displayed random hieroglyphics.
- The fuel gage would only hit empty for about two seconds, then would hop back to ¼ tank, so unless I happened to look in those two seconds, I had no idea that I needed to get myself to a gas station immediately (which resulted in running completely out of gas a number of times)
- The summer after I got the car it overheated four times, which often left me stranded in random parking lots all over Orange County
A few of these problems all worked together one morning to provide me with one of the most terrifying experiences of my life.
My best friend and I were in the carpool lane heading to school, when I realized I was getting pulled over. I figured, since Jenny is just as short as I am, that the officer in the car couldn’t see her head over the headrest and thought I was driving alone.
While waiting for the yellow lines to clear in the carpool lane so I could pull over (I wasn’t about to break that law right in front of a cop), the female officer announced over the loud speaker that I was to pull over immediately.
I then proceeded to pull over seven freeway lanes as quickly as possible as to not upset the already aggravated officer. Once on the side of the road, I began to crack my door open because, as I mentioned, my driver-side window did not roll down. The officer immediately pulled her gun on me and yelled at me to stay in the car. Needless to say, I was slightly jarred at this point. After attempting to mime to the cop that I in-fact could not roll down my window, she finally understood that I had to open my door. She then proceeded to look over at Jenny, and said “Oh, well you were going 85, so I am going to give you a speeding ticket.”
Wanna know how I know I wasn’t speeding? I never went over 70 in that car because the speedometer would freak out. By now I just wanted to get out of there, but left with a $485 ticket.
SO, that may help explain why I love my Rav4 so much. I have not had a single mechanical problem, nor have I been pulled over in it. That’s good enough for me, Toyota.
So, Jim, I have said it earlier, and I still believe you could use a hand with your crisis management at this time. Crisis management is defined as:
“The process by which an organization deals with a major unpredictable event that threatens to harm the organization, its stakeholders, or the general public.”
Most Public Relations practitioners will tell you that the bulk of good crisis management happens BEFORE an actual crisis occurs. It is clear to me that either Toyota did not have effective contingency plans prior to the recall, or that the company didn’t follow them.
Since it is too late for Toyota to go back now, I highly recommend bringing in crisis management expert Joan Gladstone. President and CEO of Gladstone International and professor at Chapman University, where I am in my third year studying Public Relations, Gladstone is probably best known for managing all media coverage for the 1994 Orange County bankruptcy.
I am confident that Joan Gladstone can help Toyota to develop a contingency plan based on the recent events, and that it will greatly help the company in future crisis’.
It is harder to critique Toyota’s apologies, or lack of apologies, during this recall. How a company handles apologies in a crisis has been debated over by practitioners for years. Some say that apologies mean that the company is admitting that it is at fault. In some cases, however, I think that owning up to a mistake and taking responsibility is the smartest thing a company can do. Toyota’s initial response to the criticism of the recall in the L.A. Times articles was defensive. I think this is where they took their first wrong turn.
Since then, they have eased up a little and have begun the apologies (it’s about time…). The point is that Toyota owners are proud of their cars, and I know I will not jump up and sell my car because of this recall, and it was reassuring to see Toyota take a little responsibility.
So, here is some background on the 2009/2010 recalls and the ways, not always good ways, Toyota has tried to stay afloat.
September 2009 – Toyota sent out a recall on almost four million cars because of a possible accelerator interference by the floormat.
October 2009 – The Los Angeles Times prints its first article about the recall. This would soon become a series of stories closely followed by the American public. One article in December 2009 claimed that Toyota knew about the defects early on, but were hoping that they could blame it on user error, and not on the vehicles themselves.
December 23, 2009 by Irv Miller
SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT
Today the Los Angeles Times published an article that wrongly and unfairly attacks Toyota’s integrity and reputation.
While outraged by the Times’ attack, we were not totally surprised. The tone of the article was foreshadowed by the phrasing of a lengthy list of detailed questions that the Times emailed to us recently. The questions were couched in accusatory terms.
Despite the tone, we answered each of the many questions and sent them to the Times. Needless to say, we were disappointed by the article that appeared today, and in particular by the fact that so little of our response to the questions appeared in the article and much of what was used was distorted.
Toyota has a well-earned reputation for integrity and we will vigorously defend it.
Group Vice President, Environmental & Public Affairs
Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.
MY THOUGHTS: Here is where Toyota first went wrong. Instead of getting offended and defensive against the Times’ accusations, it would have been smart to own up to the delay. There are many reasonable explanations to delay a recall on millions of vehicles. To do so would inconvenience those millions of vehicles’ owners, and would cost billions of dollars. It is therefore smart for a company to make sure that the cause of the accidents are in fact the fault of the product and not something else before turning their company upside down.
Instead, Toyota took the “how dare you route,” which never goes over well.
Needless to say the bad press has continued, and the company has not done much better at responding to the criticism.
I am the proud owner of a 2005 Toyota Rav4, but until this summer, I didn’t realize just how proud I was. There I was, driving down PCH, my windows down and my radio up, when a song came on I had never heard before. It was Jay-Z, so naturally, I turned it up. Then, I hear Kanye and Rihanna…could I ask for anything more? Suddenly, the situation became serious. Out of nowhere, I hear the lyric “Whatchu think I rap for, to push a f*****g Rav4?” Hmmm….Now I am pretty sure the only reason they chose this specific vehicle was because it rhymed with “rap for”….if indeed you can rhyme the words for and four. I, however, found myself getting defensive about my little Japanese car.
Kanye – it may not be a Lamborghini, but my Toyota has been absolutely amazing. I have not had a single problem in 5 years.
The 2009/2010 recall has brought even more haters. Here was Toyota’s video response to the recall:
In that video was Jim Lentz, the President and COO of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. I hope to grab his attention, encourage a serious improvement in their crisis management strategies, as well as suggest he bring in PR and crisis management specialist, Joan Gladstone, who I will talk more about in the upcoming weeks.
The point is, Toyota – DON’T GIVE UP!