Hooniverse Asks- How Screwed is Toyota?

Toyotas aren't flying off the lots because of the concern they might actually fly off the lot.

Toyota, this morning, announced their planned fix for the sticky accelerator pedals that have plagued half their model line- an inanimate carbon rod!  But, while that may keep Keanau Reeves and Sandra Bullock from making Speed III – The Avalon Goes On and On, does it make you feel any better about Toyota’s cars and trucks?

lexus wrecksus

Back in the ’80s, all it took was one ill-informed segment of Sixty Minutes to damn Audi to a decade of near extinction in the U.S.. Now, obviously Toyota is a much bigger company with a better reputation to start with, but their PR response so far has been less than reassuring, and it’s difficult to say at this time whether when the repaired cars return to dealer lots, so will the buyers.
The way Toyota has responded to the recall mandate- implying that they took the initiative to pull the affected cars from circulation when they were forced by the feds to do so seems sketchy at best. Their slow response to these issues – nineteen deaths in the past decade are attributed to the flaws in Toyota’s design – makes you wonder what else they’re not telling you.
So, as Toyota tries to overcome the worst public relations nightmare in their history, and orchestrate the retrofit of literally millions of cars and trucks, what do you think the long-term effect will be on the brand? Do you think it’s just a hic-up, and by this time next year they’ll be outselling GM? Or is it so bad that Chrysler could regain third spot in sales?
Image sources: [Boston.com, Car-Accidents.com]

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  1. Maymar Avatar

    In rod I trust!
    I think they're still about 10 years of poor performance from really falling off, unless Hyundai gets heavily aggressive. They've still got plenty of goodwill, and as long as they handle the recall efficiently, most Corolla drivers will continue to not have to think about their car, and be content to replace it with yet another Corolla after 8 years of ownership. I would've hoped that they would've studied the lessons of GM a little better, but there's time to turn this ship around.

  2. P161911 Avatar

    Most Toyota buys are trying to figure out which Toyota that they can buy that doesn't have the problem. I'm guess Honda will be the biggest beneficiary of this. Is there really that much difference between the champagne colored Camry and the white Accord?
    I'm still wondering if they have actually gotten to the root of the problem. It seems that they are trying to lay the blame on the American made pedal assembly instead of the Japanese created ECU programming. Having worked for a couple of Japanese companies, they seem much more likely to blame the problem on something non-Japanese.

  3. engineerd Avatar

    Toyota, for the last decade, has essentially repeated the mistake the Big 3 made in the '70s. The figured that people would still buy their cars simply because they are Toyotas, and not because they are the stalwart of reliability. That perception fueled Toyota sales for 10 years, and people were willing to hold on to the perception that Toyotas really are better than everything else. This was, in part, due to falterings at Ford and GM (Explorer rollovers, anyone?). However, it was a false perception. Ford has steadily gained in quality with GM not far behind. The problem, though, is public perception is a tough thing to change. It's easier to spend a few more nickels on a car and raise the quality than to get the buying public to realize it.
    Industry recognition by JD Power and others can only go so far. What Ford and GM needed was for Toyota to really screw up. Now they have. Ford and GM need to pounce. They need to pounce in the same way that Toyota pounced on them so many years ago. They need to blitz the airwaves with commercials showing that their quality is up and that they are better than Toyota.
    Unfortunately, this is difficult to do. You see, Toyota benefited from a media establishment in the US which was predisposed to further the perception that Toyota was better than all else. Now, Ford and GM need to be out there working the talking heads and getting them on their side. Then the media will help propagate the message that Ford and GM are better than Toyota.
    Unless the other car companies and the media capitalize on this, Toyota will be back in short order. There is still a perception that Toyota is synonymous with high quality and most people are dismissing this as a blip.

    1. theeastbaykid Avatar

      Ford and GM also need the product to back it up. While JD power and media reports of Toyota quality certainly played a part in the company's rise to dominance, there were millions of families in the 70s, 80s, and 90s that had a vehicular problem directly caused by an American car, which was then solved by a Japanese one. When I was growing up, my parents did just that by going from an atrocious Caravan to an indestructible Previa. It's hard to undo that experience, even with a media blitz.
      Ford and GM should certainly capitalize on Toyota's stumbles, but they should do so by speaking with their products. Ford is moving in the right direction with the Fusion, but we still await the Fiesta and proper Euro Focus. GM is moving in the right direction with the Malibu, but we still await the improved Aveo, the Cruze, and the Volt. This should be the American carmakers' primary focus.

  4. Goingincirclez Avatar

    Toyota won't come off too badly. Even that shining bastion of all that is good and sanctified, Consumer Reports, has said they're ready and planning to restore their "Recommended" status as soon as the parts are fixed.
    Legions of Ford / Pinto apologists have gone on record pointing out that the "exploding" Pinto (and more recently, rollover Explorer) was really a statistical anomaly. 19 deaths in Toyota's case (perhaps not counting 4 in a speed-related Lexus crash in Chicago this past weekend) surely are tragic – but represent a similar "statistical anomaly" in the face of the millions of cars sold, and hundreds of millions of passenger-miles safely accounted for.
    Ford and Firestone had a spat. Toyota and CTS are having one. Lawyers and PR spin will cause such things.
    In the end, if the dealer experience is positive overall, Toyota will lose a few of the skittish but in the end it won't amount to much. This is maybe the only recall or "service campaign" of theirs to get widespread attention. A true pattern hasn't emerged in the media yet; if the media had reported the sludge issues, tundra frame and tailgate defects, etc etc etc over the years, this would be the nail in the coffin. Instead it's a random "blip". The big 3 were entitled to several big "blips" before their reps were damned to hell.

  5. Bret Avatar

    Wait, let me finish this glass of KoolAid… Ahh!
    You know, the FT86 looks great! I can't wait to try one out.
    I'm still thirsty, wonder if I can find some more of this drink; it sure is tasty.

  6. Jimboz Avatar

    Very screwed. They didn't respond quickly enough or use the proper methods to convey how big the problem really is. But this is a bad thing for everyone. If they get hit as badly as it's looking, I can definitely see them postponing or cancelling the RWD coupe they've had in the pipeline for so long. Fewer sporty, light, rwd coupes= less competition= unhappy car enthusiasts.

  7. longrooffan Avatar

    A friend of mine totalled her big Land Cruiser and she is buying a new 4Runnerw ith no sense of dread at all.

  8. superbadd75 Avatar

    Toyota will be fine, and I think part of that is just timing. As Circlez pointed out, 19 (23?) deaths versus a million car sales is, although tragic, a small number. The public is watching Toyota to see how it all shakes out, and if there aren't any more deaths, or any more largely publicized ones, then it will be okay. I think where timing comes into play here though is that Toyota's biggest competitor, GM, isn't exactly on everyone's good side. Having taken billions of our tax dollars and shown very little gratitude for it, GM's got a long way to go to gain back that public sentiment, and that's not even taking quality perception into account.

  9. superbadd75 Avatar

    Ford may sell some Fusions and Foci out of this deal, but by and large it's not blown up to the point that it'll cause a mass exodus from Toyota to anyone who's got something to sell. At least I don't think so. This problem has only been public for a short time, and Toyota once again appears to be handling it quickly, at least in the eyes of their customers, and as long as it doesn't inconvenience anyone too much or cost them any money, that's all most people care about. All automakers have recalls, and I think most people look at it that way.

  10. Shadowguitar Avatar

    I'd say Toyota will survive, but I think a lot of first-time buyers could be turned off by this whole fiasco. Hyundai is coming up very quickly by car industry standards, and if Toyota doesn't counter with something big, they'll be in trouble 10-15 years down the line.

  11. Joe Dunlap Avatar
    Joe Dunlap

    I think they will survive it of course. But I have to say that, in my opinion, the gas pedal is a red herring. The real problem is in the ecm software. The pedal replacement is designed to deflect some blame from Toyota (the pedal having been made by an outside supplier, in the USA no less!). What will happen is that the during the pedal replacement, there will be an update to allow the new pedal to be recognized by the ECM and slipping in under the radar will be the software designed to correct the real problem, including the one that will recognize brake pedal application and automatically return the engine to idle.

  12. Tim Odell Avatar
    Tim Odell

    This, along with a few other defect issues in the last ~5 years, is definitely eroding their reputation as the "default" car manufacturer.
    (Default in the sense of "standard" or "normative" not in the sense of Chrysler and GM's debt.)
    My money's on Ford and Hyundai/Kia.
    Ford appears to have the engineering and reputation leg-up on the other two. That's a lot of momentum that the next 5 years will amplify.
    Hyundai's doing to the Japanese what the Japanese did the the Americans in the 70s/80s. They started out as bargain-basement crap, but are growing with improved products that are still cheaper than the competition. My time in a Genesis Coupe was hardly punitive.

  13. LBJs_Love_Child Avatar

    I see two scenarios:
    1) It's just a slow-responding pedal, and it all blows over. Or…
    2) It's a software glitch (ask me about the fleet prius I have to drive occasionally) that they are sandbagging, and it all blows up.

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  15. Jong Velilla Avatar

    Repetitive Toyota recalls will be doing untold damage to their brand equity. more than 2 million cars in the United States to fix sticking accelerator pedals. 4.2 million cars in the United States to correct pedals getting lodged below floor mats. nearly 700,000 motorcars in China owing to defective electrical window switches. Toyota managers on TV to apologise for recall and still the mass media flag problems as the company gets more fidgety. I wonder how much brand value this has cost the company.

  16. Viking 1 Avatar
    Viking 1

    There are many villains in this drama. Toyota apparantly covered up for some time these defects in accelerating, braking and steering. As mentioned before these cars are not bought for styling, handling or performance. They are at best middle of the road. The media is at fault(consumer reports? )also in giving a high rating without even testing the cars. It's interesting that few mention GM cars as reliable as the Asians yet I have not recently seen any problems with acceration, braking or handling on there new models. I suspect the Chevy Malibu and Equinox are as good as any car sold today. People always bring up poorly handing cars from 15 to 20 years ago which were made by the Big 3 but I suspect most have never driven the new models. Even the old argument that Asian cars had nicer interiors in the past is moot because they are not a safety issue. People have died and this is a serious problem and I am still concerned that the electronic throttle and breaking sofeway may be a more hidden and lethal problem. To my knowlege GM, Ford, WV and others have a brake override that shuts down the trottle. To my knowlege this has been lacking on the Toyota models.