Toyota Motor Corp. is in a crisis of critical proportions, the worst in its 70-plus-year history. The firm has voluntarily recalled millions of vehicles worldwide, and has suspended the production and sale of several models in the United States. At stake is the firm’s credibility in Japan and overseas as a trustworthy manufacturer of safe and reliable automobiles.
On Friday Mr. Akio Toyoda, president of the embattled auto giant, belatedly made his first public appearance since the recall crisis began to emerge in November, and apologized to Toyota users worldwide. Toyota’s brand image — and more importantly, consumer confidence in the quality and safety of Toyota cars — has been profoundly shaken. Things went from bad to worse for the firm last week, when safety concerns came to light regarding the braking system of its flagship hybrid model, the Prius.
As Mr. Toyoda correctly stated, the automaker should make vehicle safety its absolute highest priority, not sales. Toyota should do everything necessary, at any cost and as swiftly as possible, to fix any mechanical flaws in its vehicles.
Toyota and the U.S. oversight administration will face close scrutiny at two U.S. Congressional hearings on the recalls. The first hearing is scheduled for this week; the other for later this month. It is imperative that during these hearings Toyota establish its credibility by squarely addressing allegations it was tardy in its response to customer complaints and attempted to cover up the safety issues. The firm must present detailed, convincing explanations of the measures it takes to ensure the safety of its vehicles.
At the same time, it is hoped that the U.S. government and Congress will address the Toyota recalls in a non-emotional manner, and that the issue will not be exploited for political gain ahead of the U.S. midterm elections in November. Toyota should not be made a scapegoat of any attempts to channel American voters’ frustration away from their prolonged economic woes, highlighted by high unemployment.
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