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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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.
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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
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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
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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.
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Works Cited
"Analyst: Toyota Recovery Could Take Several Years." Forbes. N.p., Oct. Web. 7 Oct. 2011.
Bunkley, Nick. "U.S. Wants to Know When Toyota Knew of Problems." The New York Times.
N.p., 16 Feb. 2010. Web. 16 Oct. 2011.
Meier, Fred. "New Toyota Recall of 2.3 Million Vehicles for Gas Pedals Sticking Unrelated to
Floor Mats." USA Today. N.p., 21 Jan. 2010. Web. 16 Oct. 2011.
Rouse, Michael. "Our Point of View: What We Are Doing to Get Back on Track." Toyota USA
Newsroom. Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc., 23 Mar. 2010. Web. 18 Oct. 2011.
Toyota.com. Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc., n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2011.
"Toyota Features Star Safety System in New Advertising Campaign." Toyota USA Newsroom.
Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc., 9 June 2010. Web. 16 Oct. 2011.
"Toyota Mission Statement." Toyota.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2011.
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2010. Web. 16 Oct. 2011.
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2010. Web. 16 Oct. 2011.
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Vincent, Roger, and Ken Bensinger. "Toyota Works to Save Face." The Los Angeles Times. N.p.,
1 Feb. 2010. Web. 16 Oct. 2011.
Whoriskey, Peter. "Toyota Issues Public Apology, Details Plan to Fix Pedals ." The Washington
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