While the Transportation Secretary has just reversed his earlier very clear and specific call that driver’s of recalled Toyota’s should stop driving them and take them into dealers, it is Toyota itself that is increasingly bothering me. According to the Dept. of Transp., they had to send a representative to Tokyo to get a reluctant Toyota to do the recall in the first place.

And now it seems that the earlier floor mat-related recall may have been related to the current accelerator issue, and there are even suggestions that some sort of electronic malfunction may also be related to the accelerator issue. This increasing speculation and apparent lack of clarity may not all be Toyota’s fault, but it is certainly Toyota’s problem, in terms of perceived safety and truthfulness, and possibly in real safety terms.There is also an alarming inconsistency is Toyota’s decision to stop production and sale of certain models, while counseling drivers that if they already own such a model, they can continue driving them unless they perceive a problem with a sticking accelerator.

The BIG question is: is Toyota acting in the best interest of the safety of drivers and passengers in their cars, or putting their own economic interest ahead of safety, and therefor ahead of their credibility and trustworthiness. Toyota’s inappropriate tongue-in-cheek recall ads haven’t helped either. While Toyota is quickly losing stature through this crisis, so perhaps is the entire auto industry, as this is not the first time that passenger safety has seemed to come in second to economics and corporate ego. Remember safety belts, crash safety and air bags?

Reputation is not necessarily crushed by crisis, but by the nature of response to a crisis, though Toyota’s accelerator problem is by no means a natural catastrophe. And of course, it is not Toyota’s credibility that we all should be concerned with, but the safety of the cars we drive. It is indeed ironic that Toyota, a company known for the exceptional quality and durability of its products, has become the poster child for real questions about quality control and safety engineering, not to mention corporate accountability and ethics.

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