Toyota's second major safety recall related to accelerator problems means that the once-invincible automotive brand may spend most of a second consecutive year stuck in the worst possible situation: having to explain itself to its customers for continuing to disappoint them.
It’s even worse because the problems continue to afflict models – including the industry-leading Camry sedan – that account for more than two-thirds of the brand’s sales.
The news this week that Toyota is recalling another 2.3 million vehicles, on top of the 4.2-million-unit safety recall announced last year, is damning indeed for a brand that rose steadily to the very pinnacle of the global automotive business by seeming to do everything right. Is it actually the case -- its customers and potential customers must now ask themselves -- that this brand I so implicitly have trusted could get something so basic as this, so wrong?
As recently as a few weeks ago, in discussing year-end sales results, Toyota executives seemed to indicate to automotive reporters that they believed they were moving past their very sticky difficulties with accelerator pedals.
New advertising this year will "stress the attributes of the Toyota brand," said Bob Carter, head of the Toyota brand in the US, “which only include 'safety and value' as parts of a long list." Added Donald Esmond, senior vice president of automotive operations for Toyota Motor Sales USA: "It's time for us -- as we see the market recovering -- to get back to what traditionally has been beneficial to Toyota: advertising the attributes of the brand."
Clearly, Toyota brandmeisters are going to have to go back to their drawing board already.
“The news that Toyota has expanded this recall, in conjunction with a statement that removes blame from the previously identified faulty floor mats, is proof that this situation is slowly spiraling out of control,” said James Bell, executive market analyst for Kelley Blue Book. “As a company with a reputation for steadiness, these must be uncomfortable days for Toyota.”
However, as Bell added, don’t ever count out Toyota. “While most manufacturers would be overwhelmed by the cost of such a massive recall,” Bell said, “Toyota is the one car company that has the ability to recover. The bigger issue is if their sterling reputation for reliability and quality will take a permanent deduction.”