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I’ve been wondering:

1) Has the import status and Toyota culture slowed and strained the company’s responses? Toyota Japan has historically held a tight reign on their U.S. company. Has an inability of U.S. Toyota officials to act decisively in communications with NHTSA without detailed consultation with their Japanese overseers contributed to missed signals and frustration in activating, managing and communicating the recall? It is very interesting that Toyota’s CEO has remained invisible in this, and that Toyota Japan has not undertaken the traditional Japanese “low bow” of apology over a recall that is now effecting 9 million of their cars and a much greater number of drivers and passengers, not to mention their stockholders and employees.

2) Rumors of “electronic interference” are now rife regarding both the accelerator pedal recall and the Prius brake recall. Two thought come to mind: A) When my IPhone sits near a house radio, or computer printer or even a wired phone, buzzing and interference occurs. Most drivers carry wireless phones — could these or other external electronic devices be causing interference with the electronic accelerator or braking circuits of Toyota’s cars? B) Will the rising concern about interference with the compound electronic circuits of cars lead to a new demand for simpler cars, with old fashioned mechanical connections? A simple, basic, reliable, anyone-with-mechancial-skills can fix it cars? Just an idea…

3) Regarding public relations and crisis response, Toyota is suffering from too many rapidly evolving messages flying around, yet the demands of transparency and full disclosure (and the fact that millions of people are still driving the cars in question) forces them to keep putting out information as rapidly as it is produced. Toyota needs a master plan to work its way through, and ultimately out of this PR disaster. It can’t be based on spin; it must grow out of substance and accountability and sound engineering.Trust must be demonstrated and earned, not promised. Is every Toyota employee — corporate, distributor, dealer and supplier — focused on helping the customer through this mess? How is Toyota helping their customers cope with their issues and concerns? What are their people doing and what Toyota resources are they employing? What are the feedback mechanisms? How is Toyota learning and helping their customers learn from this? What is the vision for the resolution of this, and future prevention, and with what organizations is Toyota cooperating in achieving all this?

February 2010

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