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Did Toyota’s Culture

Causes Its Problems





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Case Incident Summary

Since the late 2009, the famous vehicle manufacture Toyota has suffered a
severe crisis due to unintended quality problems in its cars which had
triggered Toyota’s largest officially recalls of its cars around the world. This
crisis threatens the company’s previous reputation of good quality cars, as
well as the brand image built up over time.

A public relations nightmare that had been brewing finally became a full-
fledged storm of bad publicity when the Toyota Motor Corporation issued a
series of recalls for various models of vehicles due to a gas pedal and
unintentional acceleration concern.

The most serious defect of those cars were “unintended acceleration” that
occurred without input from the driver which the investigation revealed
and claimed the prime reason for death of 37 people since 2000.

The company had attempted to fix the problem both by recalling of affected
models and encouraging Toyota owners to remove improperly fitted floor
mats, which were thought to be the cause of the issue. Eventually Toyota
apologized and recalled more than 9 million cars. But it was too late for
them. Meanwhile, American media outlets were reporting about Toyota’s
so-called corrective actions.







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Question no. 1 & its Answer

If Toyota is not the cause of unintended acceleration, why was it
blamed for it?

In auto industry vehicle recall is a common phenomenon. But, the Toyota massive
recalls show a very different situation and involves more serious consequences. We
have seen that almost 9 million of Toyota vehicles around the world had to be
recalled within a few months, which is a rare event. And the recall issue was mainly
focused on unintended acceleration problems, which were closely related to the
most important thing for drivers – safety driving. It’s thus hard to believe that there
was nothing wrong with Toyota’s “quality” cars.
Toyota was blamed for its unintended acceleration mainly because of its failure in
public relations. Toyota’s public relations response to the recall problem was very
slow, and many Americans started to believe that the company was trying to hide
something and cover its flaws. According to The Guardian, The CEO of the company,
Akio Toyoda, did not make a statement about the crisis until February 5. The
American media criticized the company for a lack of transparency and action while
the situation was happening. The prime problem was that the company had been
practicing Japanese style of public relations.
Another problem was the cultural differences between the Americans and Japanese.
They vary greatly in the way of communication. When a company face problem in
Japan, the management tries to solve the problem silently and after done, they
inform the media about the whole situation. But Americans consider the silent-
actions as an act of ignorance and unprofessionalism. They prefer answers first and
actions second.
Americans expect the company’s CEO or President to address the people and
apologize for the faulty actions of the company. The Guardian reported that the Akio
Toyoda, CEO of Toyota bowed down in the news conference on February 5 and
apologized for the safety recalls. In the USA however, apologies are not enough.
Americans often expect rational explanations for the problem that has occurred. But
the CEO failed to provide explanations until February 24, 2010 where he appeared
before the US congressional committee, but it was too late. In the meantime, the
American consumers, politicians and other affected parties have already started to
blame company executives for the issue. The recall headlines were spread
everywhere and raised extensive attentions from mass audiences in America.
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Question no. 2 & its Answer

Investigations have shown that after stories of unintended
acceleration are publicized, report of incidents increase for all
automobiles. Why is this the case?

The problem isn’t just with Toyota. It was in November of that year that the CBS
show 60 Minutes aired its infamous report on a similar problem in Audi vehicles,
featuring footage of the accelerator on an Audi 5000. The unintended acceleration of
Audi was caused by “pedal misapplication,” drivers pressing the gas when they
meant to push the brake. But not before the Audi brand was so thoroughly trashed
that sales didn’t recover for a full decade and a half.

Over the past few decades, cars have become more and more like very sophisticated
appliances whose operation is beyond our comprehension. As a result, we’ve
become passive and reactive drivers, insulated by technology from any sense of
control or responsibility for our own well-being. As that responsibility has shifted
from the driver to the manufacturer, there has been a growing pressure to make
cars not only safe and reliable, but completely idiot-proof. Perhaps it is due to driver
error and the sophisticated car models of today that such incidents have become so
regular for all the automakers.






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Question No. 3 and its answer

Is it possible to have a strong – even arrogant – culture and still
produce safe and high-quality vehicles?

Seeing this case, we realize that a company is most likely to suffer from its arrogant
culture. A company with an arrogant culture may create negative publicity for itself
and people may start to lose their trust for the company.
As with the Toyota case, the management team might have reacted in a swagger
way. At first the management never took the blame for the unintended acceleration
although there were several incidents concerning this ‘unintended acceleration’. As
the Toyota management team was stand still with their method and never spoken to
public about this ‘unintended acceleration’. The people thought Toyota was trying to
cover its faulty actions and there was a negative publicity all over which caused a
tumultuous situation for the company.
Strong culture sometimes delays the overall process and the same thing happened to
Toyota. Despite their strong culture Toyota finally realize the problem and they tried
to apologize but there was already a huge negative publicity. So without good public
communication it is almost impossible for an arrogant firm to produce safe and
high-quality vehicles.






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Question no. 4 & its Answer

If you were the CEO of Toyota when the story was first publicized, how would
you have reacted?

As we can see in this case the CEO of Toyota was totally inactive when the story was
first published. There was no statement from CEO, Akio Toyoda regarding this
incident. As a result there was a huge negative publicity in the media. The general
public and media started to believe that Toyota was guilty for the overall situations
regarding the “unintended acceleration”. The situation was starting to go out of
hand. So Akio Toyoda tried to calm the situation but it was already too late. And
Toyota had to pay a huge price for this.
According to the researchers the late reaction of Akio Toyoda was due to cultural
differences. As in America when a problem occurs, individuals or firms relating to
the problem first try to describe the overall situation and causes of the problem to
the public and then they try to solve the problem. But in Japan it is exactly the
opposite, firms and individuals first try to solve the problem and then they try to
describe the overall situation to the public. So this nature of Toyota was totally
unacceptable to the Americans.
So, if I were the CEO of Toyota I would first try to establish a good public relation
and communication system in accordance to the region. The moment the story was
published, I would take this news seriously and ask my management team to
provide me more details of this incident. Then I would try to understand the overall
situation and call a press conference to clarify the situation to the mass media and
the stakeholders of my company. Then after addressing the problem I would try to
take necessary technical and mechanical measures to solve the problem. I might
suggest my management team to create an advertisement that shows how Toyota
Corporation takes the safety issues of the vehicles seriously, to minimize the
misunderstanding and create a positive value about Toyota in the heart of the
people.
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Conclusion

An advertising campaign reasserting Toyota’s commitment to quality and safety
took to the airwaves in 2010. Also, during the fall of that year, a series of
advertisements discussing Toyota’s technological breakthroughs and how they can
improve people’s lives began to be aired. An example of these positive messages is
the story of a soccer mother who, as she watches her son play football, discusses
Toyota’s technological advancements that are used for safety testing. The message
to consumers is clear that to the Toyota Motor Corporation, safety is a priority.

In order to prevent future discord, the Toyota Company has developed a new
“Communication Across Cultures” program for its public relations executives,
which will allow them to travel to different Toyota headquarters throughout the
world to meet with local practitioners. The program will be implemented every year,
and different representatives from each Toyota headquarters will be selected to
participate in the program during each cycle. Though cultural understanding is
essential to the success of every business, hands-on experience working with
practitioners in different cultures will facilitate future communication between
public relation practitioners from different locations and the publics they work to
inform.





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Bibliography

 How Toyota Lost its Way
Alex Taylor, Senior Editor
Fortune, July 12, 2010

 Anatomy of Toyota’s Problem Pedal: Mechanic’s Diary
Mike Allen
Popular Mechanics, March 3, 2010

 Behind The Troubles At Toyota
Bill Saporito, Joseph R. Szczesny/Detroit and with Michael
Schuman/Toyota City
Time Magazine, February 11, 2010

 LaHood Voices Concerns Over Toyota Culture
Bernand Simon
Financial Times, February 24, 2010

 Toyota Will Fix or Replace 4 Millions Gas Pedals
Bill Vlasic & Nick Bunkley
New York Times, November 25, 2009

 Has Toyota’s Imaged Recovered From The Brand’s
Recall Crisis
Anne Marie Kelly, Contributor
Forbes Magazine, May 3, 2012

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