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Toyota: When a lack of a response is a response

Posted by Bill Sluben on February 6, 2010

Toyota’s struggles the past two weeks with real and (now perceived) quality problems have shook up the once impeccable quality record of the Japanese giant. Consider that it had been Toyota that has been the benchmark for quality in the industry the past 20-25 years. Consider that it is Toyota that has had a leadership position on the field of public perception, whether rightfully deserved or not. And consider that it is Toyota that has no clue or experience in managing a public relations bomb.

Toyota, and the Japanese, are notorious for just-in-time manufacturing and consensus management. It is the latter that is their Achilles heel with the current crisis. For it is highly unusual for a Toyota rank and file to speak up. That approach ahs established uniformity and efficiency with their manufacturing.

When the crisis first began to percolate two weeks ago, Toyota’s response was to ignore it. In hopes of it going away? In hopes that the claims were false? In hopes that a small margin of complaints was not enough to warrant a response? Who knows? When the crisis escalated, the leadership of Toyota was AWOL for nearly two weeks. The response was tepid (at best) from Toyota – “if there is a sudden acceleration, just apply firm pressure to the brake and shift the car into

neutral” OMG. Are you kidding me?

Now, Toyota is in a full blown crisis. This isn’ only about the electronic sensor to the accelerator. Now it has spread into quality defects/issues with the Prius brakes. And to their credit, Toyota has issued a moratorium on future sales and has rushed out parts to remedy the accelerator situation. The message that is rolling out of corporate is to hang in there, we’ll get you fixed up, we’re still Toyota – the best in quality. But where’s the response to how they will ensure that this will never happen again? Where is the response that restores the immense equity in the perceived quality of Toyota? That’s TBD…

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