If you thought that bullseye tattoo on the backs of Toyota officials was beginning to fade, think again: no matter how much time and money the automaker pours into its public relations campaign combating faulty vehicles, there always seems to be another recall just around the corner. According to the Detroit Free Press, the latest is an investigation into a complaint about unintending stalling in Corollas and Matrixes, circa model years 2005-07. If confirmed as a recall, it could include around 1.2 million vehicles — on top of a current investigation about steering issues with the 2010 Corolla. Add this to the still-raging aftermath of their 9 million vehicle recall over unintended acceleration and braking, and it looks like that hill Toyota’s climbing to win back consumer confidence is getting quite a bit steep.
At the heart of the problem is that word – “unintended.”
Indeed, there are three types that really get car buyers up in a lather: Cars that do unexpected, or “unintended” things, cars that flip, and cars that explode. Get tagged with one of these and you can count on a long road to recovery. It’s taken Ford over a decade to get over the Firestone/Explorer recall, for example, and the cost to Toyota over their current recall woes continues to mount with no end in sight:
1. Billions of dollars spent in vehicle repair
2. Millions of dollars spent in PR repair
3. Thousands of sales potentially lost to key rivals such as GM and Hyundai
4. Hundreds of lawsuits filed
The ripple effect has been felt as far away as a MInnesota criminal court, where, according to Time Magazine, a trial judge ordered the release of a man held on suspicion of reckless operation of his car after plowing into another vehicle and killing three people. Apparently. inspectors found a “cable actuator in the cruise control mechanism stuck in the the open position.”
Factor in the money Toyota now spends on incentives – something they didn’t have to worry so much about not so long ago — and the actual damages to the company are tremendous. Not counted is the damage to Toyota’s once sterling reputation.
That reputation of theirs the lesson to take from Toyota’s recall. It’s not just about the importance of manufacturing quality vehicles. It’s the value of a brand and the importance of communication. Toyota’s sterling reputation built up over years of consistent marketing, happy customers and dependable cars gave the company a cushion from which to start. And while their communication efforts were almost laughable at the start of the recall, they’ve since rallied, naming a quality czar and aggressively reaching out to customers with problem vehicles across social media channels.
Now all they need is for another auto brand to fall into the recall pit of despair. Like, say, Jeep, with reports of an impending 3 million-strong recall for exploding gas tanks in the Jeep Grand Cherokee. What was that about Toyota again?