Oh dear. Just when embattled Japanese carmaker Toyota may have dared to hope that it was through the worst of the storm, it seems there may be a problem with the power steering on the latest models of the Corolla, its hugely popular compact family car. Toyota has already had to recall 8.5m cars around the world – if it has to do the same with the Corolla, the world’s biggest-selling car (and for an entirely new problem) the damage to its brand could be catastrophic. Toyota is trying desperately to raise its game on quality control – but it looks a bit like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted…
In the latest of a string of embarrassments for Toyota, it’s apparently had a number of complaints about the power steering on the 2009 and 2010 models of the Corolla (which has been supplanted by the Auris here in the UK); drivers have reported experiencing a ‘feeling of loss of control’. Toyota says it’s still trying to work out what the problem is, and hasn’t yet decided whether it will need to recall the two models. But after the problems it’s had with sticky accelerators and dodgy brakes, this is only going to add to people’s suspicions about buying Toyota in the future, particularly in the US.
Of course these problems may have suddenly materialised because of the negative publicity about the other faults, and if so you have to sympathise with Toyota to some extent. However, it just goes to show how quickly this kind of thing can snowball, particularly if – like Toyota – you don’t act quickly enough to address the problem. In a press conference in Japan today, president Akio Toyoda has been apologising again for not showing his face earlier – though he insists the company was not withholding information (an issue the US Congress is about to address).
He also tried to reassure customers by pointing out all the steps Toyota has now taken to improve quality control, including improvements to the software which ensure that the brake always overrides the accelerator when the two are depressed together, and a black-box in-car recorder that would allow accidents to be analysed in more detail (which will make it easier for Toyota to prove that accidents were the fault of useless driving, rather than useless cars). He’s also been very frank about the company’s failings, admitting that it grew too fast and didn’t develop the engineering and HR skills to match. ‘We are now going back to basic principles,’ he insisted.
Toyota has always been renowned for making some of the best cars around, scoring consistently highly in reliability tests. But it seems to have taken its eye off the ball lately. For some, Toyoda’s penitence may be too little, too late.
In today's bulletin:
Latest unemployment drop a mixed blessing
Corolla steering fault deepens Toyota woes
Thorntons enjoys sweeter profits after stingier Christmas
HMRC gets tough as entrepreneur hit with £30m tax bill
Route to the Top: Nine ways to build new-team trust