Tag Archives: Toyota

Toyota recall aftermath: many protagonists fail inspection

Last August, I wrote a blog post that compared the Toyota recall frenzy of 2010 to the Audi 5000 frenzy of 1986.  At that time, there were reports that investigators were having trouble finding any “sudden acceleration” problems tied to the Toyota electronics.

Four months later, I followed up with a post that covered the sensational media reporting of ABC News’ Brian Ross.  The February broadcast — in the thick of the media frenzy — featured dramatic footage of driver tests that pointed to software/electronic problems with Toyota vehicles.  The report leaned heavily on findings of a professor of automotive technology, whose work was commissioned by a paid advocate for trial lawyers (not disclosed in the original ABC News broadcast).  Tsk, tsk.

Earlier this week, federal investigators confirmed that there is no evidence of electronic failures that led to Toyota sudden acceleration incidents.  Thus, the circle is complete – the Toyota 2010 situation is the doppelganger of the Audi 1986 situation.  Both situations point to “pedal misapplication” as a likely cause in most of the reported accidents.  Both situations end with calls to move the brake and accelerator pedals a little further apart to avoid such confusion.

Summarizing this situation now is difficult, but this is a good callout from Jeffrey Liker’s post on Harvard Business Review blog:

So who won in this debacle? Journalists who wrote speculative and poorly researched sensational articles got a lot of internet hits. NHTSA got a lot of attention, a larger budget, and a reputation for toughness. It remains to be seen whether the lawyers suing Toyota will get anything. American drivers got a paranoid auto industry that will recall vehicles at the drop of a hat. There will be some positive safety policies relating to how runaway cars are shut off in an emergency, and we all may get “black boxes” that record our recent driving actions. And Toyota got a crisis that drove it to reflect intensively and to make dramatic changes to improve its responsiveness to customer concerns, so likely will emerge stronger — but lost billions of dollars of value in the process.

Other implications?     Continue reading Toyota recall aftermath: many protagonists fail inspection

Inoculate the sponsorship of your socially-networked star

Starlight, star…bright?

Many contemporary superstars – celebrities, artists, athletes, etc. – are embracing social networking to enjoy direct, authentic dialogue with the public.  Today’s icons let thoughts flow through their fingertips, without the primping and protection of publicists or PR handlers.  This is a good idea for the thoughtful, who share information that is complimentary to their image.  However, this is a detrimental idea for those who expose a naiveté, bias or thoughts inconsistent with their image. 

For professionals who manage sponsorships with these stars, social networking creates accelerated risks.  From an issues and crisis perspective, I’ve long recommended “inoculation actions” for sponsorships.  Here are those actions,  applied to a sponsored star who is active on social networks:    

  • Reconnaissance.  When organizations enter sponsorship agreements, they typically take great pains to find iconic figures that embody its values.  The rise of social networking helps potential sponsors know more about these stars than ever before, before inking a deal.  When stars are already active social networkers, they provide great indicators on the benefits/risk of a sponsor’s investment, rather than relying on an agent’s good word.  If the star is not online networking, there’s still a steady “digi-logue river” that can be tapped, through hashtag or fan-page post searches.  Continue reading Inoculate the sponsorship of your socially-networked star

Poll: Impact of crises today – deep or shallow?

Courtesy: Stuart McMillen, based on work by Neil Postman


Although penned more than a year and a half ago, I recently stumbled upon a thought-provoking cartoon by Stuart McMillen and based on text by Neil Postman.  I’ve posted two key panels to the left, but clicking there will take you to the entire cartoon. 

In full, it concludes that Huxley’s fears have become more prevalent than Orwell’s, and that the public has an “almost infinite appetite for distractions.”  Information and entertainment overload are thought to be contributing factors.  We are hyperlinked, super networked and gadget consumed.  (For example, how many travelers do you see toggling through email, Twitter, AP news and Angry Birds apps when in an airport?  How many of you are those travelers?  I’m partially guilty.) 

If the Huxley fears are accurate, it raises an interesting question for crisis/reputation managers.  

Does a crisis today have more impact or less impact than, say, a decade ago when bad news came from fewer focal points? 

By example, I’d venture to guess that the public was more informed about the Toyota recall or the Qantas’ emergency landing (caused by a faulty Rolls-Royce engine) than a decade ago.  But is the impact the same as a decade ago?  

Continue reading Poll: Impact of crises today – deep or shallow?

Toyota vs. ABC News’ Sensationalism

Earlier this week, I moderated an interactive crisis management workshop on behalf of PRSA Charlotte.  We explored top crisis management observations from 2010 and then held an interactive discussion on BP/Deepwater Horizon disaster and on the Toyota recalls.  (These links provide you with summary points shared with the PRSA members.)

We ran short on time and needed to truncate an important part of the Toyota recall case.  The quick summary raised a few eyebrows in the room and we didn’t have time to explore some of the media sensationalism felt by Toyota.  As a promise made to those members and as interesting reading for the rest, I’d like to summarize that here:

  • By early February, there were swelling reports that “unintended acceleration” was occuring in some Toyota models.  Some believed this was caused by software.  This led to some sensational media coverage, leaving Toyota owners believing in “ghosts in the machine.”
  • On Feb. 22, ABC News’ chief investigative correspondent, Brian Ross, aired a segment where he interviewed David Gilbert, a professor of automotive technology at Southern Illinois University.  Here’s the segment:

Continue reading Toyota vs. ABC News’ Sensationalism

Looking Backward, Moving Forward

Consider these events:

  • Reports begin to surface of “sudden acceleration” from one auto manufacturer, including heartbreaking video/audio of fatal incidents
  • Media coverage of the situation is sometimes sensational, adding to public concerns about “runaway cars”
  • Plaintiffs’ lawyers swarm and advertise to collect testimony of anyone involved in an accident in these cars
  • “Experts” like the Center for Auto Safety weigh in on the situation, confirming the public’s fears about the safety of those cars
  • Government officials get involved, publicly skewer the auto maker, and then order studies to determine the sources of the problem
  • Months later, after reputational damage is done, fines are issued and legal verdicts and settlements are paid – studies begin to show that “driver error” is likely in most of the car accidents
  • As the legal basis for “sudden acceleration” weakens, other owners and plaintiffs lawyers seek compensation for lost resale value

If you’re older than age 40, this all might sound doubly familiar.  Each of the events above apply to both the Audi 5000 situation back in 1986, and the Toyota recall of 2009-2010

This is not to suggest the automobiles were perfect. 

Continue reading Looking Backward, Moving Forward