Toyota’s woes continue to mount: amid widespread rumours that the carmaker is about to announce a recall of some 300,000 Prius cars worldwide (the eco-warrior’s electric/ petrol hybrid of choice) to fix a braking glitch, the Japanese press are now reporting that it will also have to do the same for a vehicle in its premium Lexus range. After Toyota president Akio Toyoda issued a public apology for the whole fiasco on Friday, helping its share price recover slightly (better late than never), this puts Toyota back in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. In some ways it almost doesn’t matter now whether these recalls actually happen – the damage has already been done...
The Prius is the world’s biggest-selling hybrid car and the flagship of Toyota’s ‘green’ efforts, so this latest recall is more than a little embarrassing. The Japanese firm is apparently pondering a recall for its latest 2010 model, which went on sale in May and has already shifted about 300,000 units worldwide (including 30,000 in Europe). Allegedly it’s the same problem with the braking software that has affected some of Toyota’s other models; it’s not complicated to fix (a 30-minute job, apparently), but it won’t exactly inspire would-be buyers with confidence. And Toyota’s rather odd refusal to confirm any of this seems to us to be making the situation even worse. Some reports suggest that it doesn’t think a recall is technically necessary – but when confidence has been undermined to this extent, that’s hardly the point. It might as well just bite the bullet and get on with it.
Unfortunately, the bad news doesn’t stop there. There are now two other Toyota models under the spotlight – both of which are also hybrids. One is a Japanese car called the Sai, but the more embarrassing one is the Lexus HS250h, the first from the high-end range to use hybrid technology. Again, however, Toyota is refusing to confirm this either way – so the speculation just continues to mount. And just to add insult to injury, all three cars are made in Toyota’s Japanese plants. So they can’t even blame it on their overseas factories...
All in all, this hasn’t exactly been a textbook example of corporate crisis management. Toyota has now had to recall more than 4m cars in the last month, but it wasn’t until Friday that Toyoda emerged with cap in hand, apologising ‘from the bottom of my heart’ and reassuring customers that ‘Toyota vehicles are safe’. Welcome words, but arguably a couple of weeks too late. Someone at Toyota needs to get a proper handle on this fast, because this constant drip-drip of negative publicity is doing its brand absolutely no favours.
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