The Toyota Train Wreck

It almost seems unfair to pile on criticism of Toyota, but for a company that has done so much that is right for so many years, it’s startling to see how badly they missed handling this crisis.

Toyota has been a shining star of the automobile industry for a very long time. Along with the Civic and Accord from Honda, with the Corolla and Camry, they built a mass market appreciation in the US for a high level of quality and styling that put US carmakers on the defense. As their market share and reputation grew, they took on the big boys–the European luxury cars like Mercedes and BMW through a new marque–the Lexus. More recently they won my particular admiration for the vision, courage, engineering and design prowess that resulted in the Prius. Ford, GMC and Chrysler were dolts in comparison.

Now Toyota is mired in a horrific reputational crisis that appears to worsen by the day. Every pundit on the planet has theories about what Toyota has done wrong and what, if anything, they should do to repair the damage.

Here is what I know about reputation. It’s like the stock market: it takes a long time for the market to rise enough to become a true bull market. Then the “market” or “reputation” becomes a sure thing with endless upside. But the descent into a bear market/sullied reputation happens so fast that one bears the scars of the “bear claws” for a long time.

My guess is that Toyota is a deer in the headlights and totally in the power of their legal department. Thus, no information is forthcoming because any statement could become fodder for lawsuits. I have worked in corporations like this. You know what else? They aren’t telling their employees anything either. It takes an unbelievably brave and self-confident CEO to take control of a situation like this and, if anything, OVERcommunicate, say mea culpas, and create a path forward.

Toyota simply has no experience in being a bad guy. But bad they have been, and they will carry the burden for a long time.

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