Is Toyota Stepping on the Gas Too Late?

Caused by a stuck Toyota accelerator?

By Eric Seidel, CEO
The Media Trainers

Finally, Toyota is talking. Finally, there’s a human face and voice instead of online, emailed and, presumably, faxed statements. Better late than never? Or too late?

There’s conjecture aplenty from financial and automotive industry pundits on the estimated damage to the Toyota brand and bottom line. And blogsters are bombarding Cyberspace with their opinions, as well.

So how has the company done in its emergence from the Toyota bunker? Within the first hour of Toyota’s announcement on how millions of gas pedals will be fixed, Toyota USA President Jim Lentz appeared on CNBC with the business channel’s automotive beat reporter, Phil LeBeau. (Click the full interview below.)

LeBeau questioned Toyota’s credibility, reminding Lentz about the first recall which blamed the sudden thrust of the accelerator on sliding floormats. That was in October. Then, in December, Toyota said some pedals just might be sticking. Then, the third wave: production is stopped and several million cars have been recalled to be fixed at dealerships.

LeBeau cited an ongoing LA Times investigation, raising the possibility that the situation is caused by an electrical problem. Lentz expressed confidence it’s not electrical and said both Toyota and outside consultants have made tests. He said the sticking pedal phenomenon is rare and seems to happen “over time.”

Have customers lost faith in Toyota? Lentz leaned heavily on the automaker’s history rather than predicting the future, which he obviously hopes will mirror the past in customer satisfaction and confidence, although image damage is undoubtedly significant.

To his credit, Lentz took the criticism like a man. Certainly, he could not have been surprised. He maintained eye contact with LeBeau, and answered tough questions generally head-on and reinforced his answers with effective body language. Of course he made sure he recited the obligatory statement that safety is Toyota’s highest priority, a claim that may land on many deaf ears after a series of missteps by the company.

My question is where have you been, Toyota (Mr. Lentz)? Why did it take you a week while all the media had were your statements up against the on-camera testimony of apparent stuck gas pedal victims?

While the experts try to quantify Toyota’s losses, only time will tell us how the intangibles of name and reputation will suffer tangible damage.

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