Years ago, I was Toyota’s mid-American PR manager, and we never dreamed of a recall disaster like the one they are experiencing now, calling back millions of cars and stopping production because of a sticking accelerator problem. Thousands of run-away car incidents and 19 reported deaths, so far. Toyota is doing full disclosure on the situation, as far as I can tell (though there have been some questions about how quickly they acted) and taking rapid steps to fix the accelerator pedals, yet many people are afraid to drive their cars in the interim. This is beyond a PR nightmare — it’s just a nightmare. We drive a trusty old, reliable Highlander — one too old to have this problem.

The only PR advice I can give Toyota at this juncture is to be totally open and honest and accessible to the news media and to its customers. They should work with the NHTSA and National Safety Council and their dealers, to teach people how to check for a problem, if possible, handle a car in event of a situation, and how to avoid dangerous situations. They should work out and announce some sort of compensation or insurance from Toyota for damage and injury, and expedite legal remedies for those effected. It will cost them a fortune, but they are already losing a fortune in their plummeting stock and lost sales, so they must redeem their reputation and remedy the problems they have created with dramatic, meaningful and effectively communicated actions and assurances.

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