Crisis PR: The Never-ending Toyota Recall Story

Toyota Public Relations

Have you ever watched a bad soap opera just because there was nothing else worthwhile on TV? Well, reading news about Toyota lately pretty much compares to that feeling. Never mind that Google is using Toyota vehicles to build the self-driving car (although, between us, they could have chosen something more reliable)… When you read news that Toyota is recalling about 1.53 million cars globally you can only wonder: why are they still making cars?

These are the vehicles thy are recalling now:  2005 through 2006 Avalon, 2004 through 2006 Highlander (non Hybrid) and Lexus RX330, and 2006 Lexus GS300, IS250, and IS350 vehicles sold in the United States.

What puzzles me even more, is the poor PR response to the issue. Earlier this year, the company committed to provide safer cars to its customers. They ran PR and advertising campaigns suggesting that their automobiles are tested carefully for safety. They introduced a five year warranty for all Toyota cars, in a desperate attempt to convince the public that they are confident in what they are selling. A lot of noise, many promises… and the reasons that led to the most recent Toyota recall show that the company has learned nothing from the past. Things got even worse: this time, there’s a problem with the brakes:

If the brake warning lamp has illuminated and the vehicle continues to be operated without refilling the master cylinder brake fluid reservoir, the driver will begin to notice a spongy or soft brake pedal feel and braking performance may gradually decline.

In the press release announcing the recall in the US, Toyota promised customers to replace the defective brake master cylinder cups with newly designed ones at no charge to the vehicle owners. A logical measure, with the five year warranty in place, and considering that the ordeal is Toyota’s own fault. But what happens to the vehicle owners while Toyota is making these repairs? Many people depend on their cars – not having one brings additional costs. No word about making up for the trouble, and not even the common decency to apologize. Toyota’s PR department has about the same value as the promises they make.

“We made commitments earlier this year to be more responsive and attentive to our customers,” said Brian Lyons, safety and communications spokesman for Toyota. “We are viewing this recall as a continuation of that commitment.”

What about committing to building better cars? Sure, they made that promise as well… but the results are not in sight.

Among the agencies who work with Toyota are Shift Communications, Glover Park Group ,Quinn Gillespie & Associates, Golin Harris, ROI Communications and Robinson Lehrer-Montgomery. Their primary ad agency is Saatchi & Saatchi.

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