Evaluating Toyota Motor Sales Response to the Recall

February 15, 2010

Toyota Motor Sales (TMS) announced a safety recall on Feb. 8, 2010, covering about 2.3 million vehicles including model cars, SUVs and pickup trucks. The recall was issued to address two problems in the vehicles. The first problem was to address the potential for an unsecured driver’s floor mat to interfere with the accelerator pedal. The second problem was to address the possibility that certain accelerator pedals may stick in a depressed position or return slowly to the idle position. Irv Miller, a group vice president for Toyota Motor Sales wrote:

Our investigation indicates that there is a possibility that certain accelerator pedal mechanisms may, in rare instances, mechanically stick in a partially depressed position or return slowly to the idle position.

The recall by TMS can be considered a crisis according to W. Timothy Coombs, Ph.D., definition of a crisis. Coombs identifies a crisis as a significant threat to public safety, financial loss and reputation. Msnbc.com reported:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had received reports of 100 incidents at the time of Toyota’s first recall. Those reports included 17 crashes and five fatalities possibly linked to floor mats and accelerator pedals in Toyota cars and trucks.

The recall has cost the company a large sum of money and has affected its reputation as one of the top-selling car companies in the world. This crisis may be a difficult time for TMS; however, the company has an opportunity to focus on crisis management and enhance its ability to communicate effectively. Coombs suggest that crisis management should be divided into three phases: pre-crisis, crisis response and post-crisis.

Let’s now evaluate Toyota’s use of the three phases according to Coombs strategies. In the pre-crisis phase, Coombs identifies this phase as an opportunity for prevention and preparation. TMS could take advantage of the pre-crisis phase by drafting a crisis management plan. This plan should include pre-drafted crisis messages and should be reviewed annually. By preparing a crisis management plan, TMS could have been more prepared for the crisis they are encountering now. A crisis management plan could help the company prepare for a crisis and communicate effectively to all stake holders.

In the crisis response phase, Coombs suggest that companies be quick, be accurate and be consistent. In an important message by Jim Lentz, the president and chief operating officer of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc., he addressed Toyota’s pledge to its customers. In the pledge Lentz discusses Toyota’s launch of a top-to-bottom review of the process related to the recall, improving lines of communications, investigating and addressing safety issues, and asking outside experts to confirm that the quality controls conform to best industry practices.

It appears that TMS has addressed the situation and is making the necessary changes in response to the crisis. Toyota has sent letters to their customers regarding the recall, dealerships have extended their hours of operation and trained technicians have begun making the repairs.

In the post-crisis response phase, Coombs suggest that organizations keep stakeholders aware and updated each step of the way. He suggests analyzing the situation to determine the strengths and weaknesses in the company’s response to the crisis. TMS has an opportunity to utilize what it has learned throughout this experience for future crisis. The company can better prepare for future crisis by drafting a crisis management plan and updating the plan yearly. If TMS utilized Coombs strategies it could have easily responded to the crisis in a quick and effective manner.

It is important to remember that a crisis can become an opportunity for a company if handled appropriately. Utilizing Coombs three phases of crisis management can benefit many companies that encounter a crisis. So the next time you encounter a crisis think back to this blog post and ask yourself, “Was I prepared and did I respond in the most effective way possible?”


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