Moran 1 Lauren Moran COMMS 235 10/18/2011 Toyota Product Recall — Defective Accelerator Pedals Research Situation Description On January 21, 2010, Toyota announced a voluntary recall of 2.3 million vehicles due to “isolated reports of sticking accelerator pedal mechanisms,” in lieu of an ongoing recall of 4.2 million Toyota vehicles (Meier). A previous recall was related to loose floor mats jamming the accelerator, resulting in loss of control over the vehicle. CBS News’ article, “Toyota “Unintended Acceleration” Has Killed 89,” stated that by May 2010, Toyota Motor Corporation recalled approximately eight million vehicles worldwide due to issues with gas pedals, floor mats and brakes (“Toyota "Unintended Acceleration" Has Killed 89"). According to the National Highway Safety Administration, in ten years (2000-2010) the administration “received more than 6,200 complaints involving sudden acceleration,” in addition to 89 reported deaths and 57 injuries (“Toyota "Unintended Acceleration" Has Killed 89"). CBS News stated, “The Japanese automaker paid a record $16.4 million fine for its slow response to an accelerator pedal recall,” and faced hundreds of lawsuits at the state and federal level (“Toyota "Unintended Acceleration" Has Killed 89"). Research Toyota Motor Corp. Response Toyota delayed its response to vehicle owners affected by the sticky accelerator pedal, resulting in the company’s fine of $16.4 million. The Inqurier’s article, “Toyota Pays 16.4Million-Dollar Fine Over Gas Pedal Defects,” said the company paid the fine in May 2010 ("Toyota Pays 16.4-Million-Dollar Fine Over Gas Pedal Defects"). According to Nick Bunkley, a New York Times reporter, “Federal law requires manufacturers to notify the agency (National Moran 2 Highway Traffic Administration) within five days of identifying a defect and then begin to recall promptly” (Bunkley). Toyota failed to notify the National Highway Traffic Administration in an appropriate time frame, causing the death of 50 vehicle owners (Bunkley). In order to combat future accidents, Toyota halted vehicle production during the recall. According to Roger Vincent and Ken Bensinger, writers for the Los Angeles Times, Toyota “ordered its dealers to stop selling the eight models that it says have the accelerator problem” (Vincent, Bensinger). Toyota issued an official apology on the company website. According to Peter Whoriskey, a writer for the Washington Post, Jim Lentz, president and chief operating officer of Toyota’s U.S. sales said, “I want to sincerely apologize to Toyota owners. I know that our recalls have caused many of you concern and for that I am truly sorry” (Whoriskey). Toyota released another apology that media outlets picked up in their articles. CBS News stated, “Toyota said in a statement that it “sympathizes with the individuals and families involved in any accident involving our vehicles. We are making an all-out effort to ensure our vehicles are safe and we remain committed to investigating reported incidents of unintended acceleration in our vehicles quickly” (“Toyota “Unintended Acceleration” Has Killed 89”). Finally, Toyota began taking safety precaution measures. Toyota launched the Swift Market Analysis Response Team and the Toyota Star Safety System. According to Consumer Reports article, "Toyota Updates on Recall Campaign, Safety Initiatives for 2011,” the Swift Market Analysis Response Team (SMART) was an initiative to “investigate unintended acceleration reports and accidents” ("Toyota Updates on Recall Campaign, Safety Initiatives for 2011"). The team consisted of 200 engineers and field technicians. Team members conducted safety investigations on approximately 4,200 Toyota vehicles in the months following the recall of defective accelerator pedals ("Toyota Updates on Recall Campaign, Safety Initiatives for 2011"). Also, the Toyota Star Safety System was featured in all Toyota vehicles. The system Moran 3 included five safety technologies: vehicle stability control, traction control, an anti-lock brake system, electronic brake-force distribution, and brake assist (“Toyota Star Safety System”). Research Toyota Vehicle Owner Response During the auto-recall crisis, Toyota’s market share dropped from 17 percent to 11.5 percent. According to Forbes article, “Analyst: Toyota Recovery Could Take Several Years,” Chrysler Group LLC passed Toyota in sales and market share (“Analyst: Toyota Recovery Could Take Several Years”). The owners of Toyota vehicles began switching brands. Those who stuck with the brand complained and sought an explanation for the defective accelerator pedals. Owners of Toyota vehicles affected by the product recall began contacting lawyers. According to Chris Isidore’s CNN Money article, “Toyota’s Next Problem: Lawsuits,” by Feburary 10, 2010 (weeks after the recall announcement), 30 U.S. lawsuits were filed against Toyota. Isidore discusses how Toyota owners who wrecked their vehicles due to “driver error,” believed the wrecks occurred due to the defective accelerator pedals. Isidore quotes Craig Hustson, an investment grade analyst at Gimme Credit; Hutson said the lawsuits filed by Toyota customers potentially caused extensive damage to Toyota’s reputation. Toyota owners responded to the overall recall either by lawsuit, or by taking their car into local dealerships. The drop in market share demonstrated consumer’s loss of faith in Toyota vehicles, and desire to find other reliable modes of transportation. The lawsuits came about from dissatisfied customers, or people harmed by the defective acceleration system. Analysis What Do We Need to Do? (Objectives) Toyota attempted to fix their negative publicity by gaining the Toyota consumercommunity’s trust back. According to InvestorGuide.com’s article, “Toyota Slams on the Brakes,” Toyota wanted to stop all problems before things spiraled out of control, “and inspire Moran 4 trust and confidence with its customers” (“Toyota Slams on the Brakes”). Toyota’s objectives were to maintain customer satisfaction throughout the recall process, avoid large fines from the National Highway Safety Administration, fix all defective accelerator pedals and address any other safety issue found within specific Toyota models. According to Toyota.com, Toyota’s mission statement is “to attract and attain customers with high-valued products and services and the most satisfying ownership experience in America” (“Toyota Mission Statement”). Toyota’s mission statement was reflected in the company’s public relations objectives. By maintaining trust, mending their reputation with select government organizations and fixing the defective vehicle parts, Toyota attempted to provide “the most satisfying ownership experience” (“Toyota Mission Statement”). I believe Toyota’s objectives effectively addressed the issue at hand. The corporation had defective parts, causing potential harm to their customers. Toyota halted production, assessed the problem and determined the objectives necessary to combat their negative public image. In their efforts to meet these objectives, I believe Toyota failed to avoid fines from the National Highway Safety Administration. Toyota had to pay the $16.4 million fine, thus lacking the organization’s trust. Toyota should have specifically targeted the National Highway Safety Administration, and built a positive relationship through two-way communication. For example, Toyota’s objective could have been, “prove to the National Highway Safety Commission by March 2010 that Toyota engineers and manufacturers were swift in reporting the defective auto-parts, and the prospective fines are unnecessary.” Also, Toyota should have narrowed their objectives to specific customers affected by the recalled Toyota models. I would have stated, “Toyota’s objective is to gain the confidence and trust of Toyota Highlander owners affected by the defective accelerator pedals, and do whatever is necessary to achieve their satisfaction.” Toyota Moran 5 passively demonstrated their company objectives, rather than stating measurable and active objectives. Analysis Who Do We Need to Reach? (Key Publics) Toyota’s key publics were the customers affected by the product recall, specifically families with Toyota vehicles, and the National Highway Safety Administration. The corporation’s objectives primarily involved these two publics. Also, Toyota attempted to reach potential customers, proving to future Toyota owners that their cars were the best in the industry. Toyota did not reach out to influential public figures, or appropriate media outlets. Having a positive image with influential public figures, such as mayors or senators, would have encouraged the National Highway Safety Commission to trust Toyota, and drop the fine. Also, Toyota needed to address media outlets, media gatekeepers and investors. These publics are essential to creating a positive corporate image. Instead, Toyota focused on fixing their cars for sales purposes. Newspapers, magazines, and radio/television stations should have thoroughly been sought out. Even though the recall received publicity on its own, Toyota needed to show these media outlets that they were being reached out to with truthful statements regarding the issue. In addition to the media, investors should have been an essential key public. Investors provide the money necessary to continue development of products. Analysis What Messages Do We Need to Send? (Messages) Toyota sent out several messages to their key publics, such as concern for customers’ safety and active efforts to combat any defective product. As discussed earlier, Jim Lentz, president and chief operating officer of Toyota U.S sales released a formal apology to all publics affected by the recall. According to Whoriskey, Lentz assured Toyota customers that he and his family drove Toyota vehicles. Lentz stated that he would never place his family in harms Moran 6 way (Whoriskey). Lentz’s message addressed concerns about family and safety. Lentz attempted to convey to Toyota customers, and potential customers that Toyota vehicles were safe for everyone. Another message Toyota sent was their plan of action for the recalled vehicle models. The company released several press releases, stating what aspect of the accelerator pedal needed fixing. Michael Rouse, a Toyota team member, posted on the Toyota USA Newsroom website, “There has been a great deal of confusion, speculation and misinformation about our recent recalls – much of it in the media or as a result of unsupported claims about “unintended acceleration” caused by our electronics. We want to set the record straight and tell you the actions we are taking to get back on track” (Rouse). The news release discussed recent updates on recalls, stated that Toyota found no flaws in their electronic systems, addressed the acceleration defects, and conveyed their concern and appreciation for all Toyota customers (Rouse). Toyota needed to create messages that actively addressed the self-interests of their key publics. I believe Jim Lentz’s public apology and Michael Rouse’s explanation of events were critical to conveying messages. The company members attempted to create messages reassuring their publics, however, their messages were laced with self-preservation. Toyota’s messages needed to emphasize customer safety and product improvement, rather than promoting the Toyota brand. Lentz states in his apology that his family drives Toyota vehicles, and expounds on his trust for the brand (Whoriskey). Every message should have assured customers, potential customers and the National Highway Safety Administration that Toyota was a reliable transportation provider, assessing damages and defects, only to improve the Toyota experience. Moran 7 Analysis How Do We Most Effectively Send the Message? (Strategies and Tactics) The corporation failed to promptly report and announce the recall of vehicles by the National Highway Safety Administration standards, however; Toyota sent out numerous press releases to the company website concerning their vehicle recalls. The Toyota Newsroom website provides a list of press releases for owners, and media outlets to access (Toyota USA Newsroom). The company received media coverage from various outlets, such as The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, CBS and FOX. Toyota strategically sent their messages through the mass media. Toyota’s key publics, current customers, potential customers and the National Highway Safety Administration, encompassed a large group of people within various regions of the U.S. Using mass media as a means to distribute their messages, allowed Toyota to effectively reach their publics. The National Highway Safety Administration, Toyota customers and Toyota families were addressed in the Toyota Star Safety System and SMART team programs. Toyota created the safety system and team, conveying to their public that Toyota would go the extra mile to fix the accelerator problems. This showed Toyota’s key publics that the company cared, and would never put Toyota owners in harms way ("Toyota Features Star Safety System in New Advertising Campaign"). The safety system and SMART team were promoted on the Internet and television commercials. Toyota created the Star Safety System in order to implement safe systems as standard equipment in all Toyota vehicles ("Toyota Features Star Safety System in New Advertising Campaign"). Toyota created an advertising campaign promoting the safety system. The commercial showed adults, children and families interacting with one another. Behind each person, a comment concerning safety was posted. At the end of the commercial, Toyota urged Moran 8 customers to go to Toyota.com/safety in order to learn more about the new system. (“Toyota Star Safety System”). Toyota posted the commercial to the company website, and used press releases to inform newspapers and television stations about the new system. In addition to the Toyota Star Safety System, the Swift Market Analysis Response Team was created to strategically send messages to Toyota customers. The team of engineers and field technicians assessed the defective aspects of the recalled Toyota models. According to Toyota’s website, the SMART team established a Smart Stop Technology. The Smart Stop Technology became standard in all models. The braking system was engineered to work whenever the vehicle accelerated unintentionally (Toyota.com). The Toyota website features various safety awards the company achieved through their SMART team efforts and safety system. Toyota’s award winning models included the Prius, Sienna, Venza, Tundra, Avalon, Corolla and Highlander. These awards showed customers that Toyota wanted to fix their company image, provide the best experience/service in the auto industry, and reassure any doubtful customers. Toyota sent their messages through the media, and created two promotional programs (the Star Safety System and the Swift Market Analysis Response Team), which demonstrated Toyota’s public relations strategies and tactics. The programs promoted Toyota as a safe car provider, when they were unsafe. The Star Safety System commercial was distributed to television networks so all Toyota customers could see the company working to improve their products. By posting awards to their site, customers were able to access positive information about the company, rather than the negative publicity. Toyota failed to effectively send their messages through social media. This medium is essential for reaching customers. There was a Facebook page called “Toyota Recall.” The page featured a picture of the accelerator problem. The main company page only shows promotional material. I believe Toyota could have Moran 9 effectively sent their messages through social media. Facebook and Twitter would have personalized Toyota, and made them appear more human. Also, Toyota did not have face-to-face communication with any Toyota customers. Toyota should have created a team that went to Toyota owners, and reassured them that Toyota cared and was doing everything possible to fix the defective accelerators. Rather than having the panic of not knowing all the facts, customers would have been reassured and gained a personal relationship with Toyota. Overall, I believe Toyota’s problems could have been fixed merely by communicating with their customers, potential customers and the National Highway Safety Administration. Toyota was slow in their response and came across as lazy. Instead of waiting for a defective accelerator pedal, Toyota should have been implementing the Star Safety System and working with the Swift Market Analysis Response Team long in advance. Toyota needed to have constant communication with their publics, and planned for problems before they happened. Moran 10 Works Cited "Analyst: Toyota Recovery Could Take Several Years." Forbes. N.p., Oct. Web. 7 Oct. 2011. Bunkley, Nick. 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