By on January 30, 2010

When a Japanese company NFSWs up in a big way, it is customary that the CEO says “honto ni moshiwake arimasen” (“I am deeply, seriously sorry”) in front of running cameras, takes a very deep bow and exits stage left, not to be seen or heard of anymore while someone else takes his job . That’s just the way Nipponese crisis management works.

Not so at Toyota.

Akio Toyoda, Toyota’s CEO and grandson of the founder had not been seen or heard of ever since pedal-gate gained tsunami-strength. Asked about the boss’s whereabouts, the folks in Aichi said that they are not at liberty to disclose this information.

Finally, a camera crew of the Japanese NHK network cornered Akio Toyoda in the lobby of a swank hotel in Davos Switzerland. While 8 million Toyotas are recalled, he’s attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, where CEOs rub shoulders with politicos.

Visibly annoyed by the intruding cameramen, Toyoda didn’t say much. “We’re extremely sorry to have made customers uneasy,” and “we plan to establish the facts and give an explanation that will remove customers’ concerns as soon as possible.” That was basically it. No more questions could be answered, “because we are still investigating.” Then he left the hotel. In a black Audi, as ABC reports with glee. (For Japanese speakers: There is a video of the short interview in that link.)

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41 Comments on “Toyota CEO Apologizes. Or Not...”


  • avatar
    mpresley

    While watching the video I had to sit through an ABC “Diane Sawyer interviewing the President” plug, which got me to thinking. Maybe Akio and his men can get the Obama-god to give them some lessons in bowing? Unfortunately, with these politicians and CEOs, although they’re the ones bending over, it’s American joe-public that always takes it up… My bet is that Obama will be recalled before all the Toyotas can.

  • avatar

    Obama knows how to bow. Here he’s being tutored by the Japanese emperor.

    • 0 avatar
      mpresley

      To foreigners, he does. I hear Alito (sort of rhymes with Akio) was expecting his, the other night, but is now suggesting that the President start driving Camrys with plush aftermarket floor mats.

    • 0 avatar

      When I first arrived in Tokyo, I was taken aback by Japanese women bowing to me. I forgot up till that point that that was a custom there.

      I betcha, if that moron Bush knew the culture of Japan, he probably would have bowed too. Of course, I’m not so sickened by Obama bowing as i am by Bush walking hand-in hand with the Saudis and kissing the on the face.

      I do not recognize ANY monarchys. If I was president I wouldn’t bow to anyone even if i was expected too. I’d just give a little nod.

    • 0 avatar
      johnthacker

      “Of course, I’m not so sickened by Obama bowing as i am by Bush walking hand-in hand with the Saudis and kissing the on the face.”

      Or Obama bowing to the Saudis, either, right, Flashpoint? Or is this just some silly partisan thing?

    • 0 avatar
      vento97

      “Of course, I’m not so sickened by Obama bowing as i am by Bush walking hand-in hand with the Saudis and kissing the on the face.”

      Or Obama bowing to the Saudis, either, right, Flashpoint? Or is this just some silly partisan thing?

      Now, now, Liberals and Conservatives – play nice.

      I could mention that the Democrats and Republicans were the only two parties in power for more than a Century+, and thus mostly responsible for decisions leading up to our current predicament, and that all the finger-pointing by Liberals and Conservatives alike cannot mask that fact….but we won’t get into that…

      “Democrats and Republicans – First-world prosperity for themselves, third-world prosperity for the rest of us…”

    • 0 avatar
      criminalenterprise

      To the moderators of TTAC:

      Is it acceptable for mpresley to openly fantasize about the death of the President of the United States?

      mpresley: I hear there are plenty of echo chambers on the web where people love to turn everything into ugly politics. Please go to those places if you want to be offensive.

    • 0 avatar
      mpresley

      criminalenterprise: Is it acceptable for mpresley to openly fantasize about the death of the President of the United States?

      I hear there are plenty of echo chambers on the web where people love to turn everything into ugly politics. Please go to those places if you want to be offensive.

      The moderators have a sense of humor, and understand that I was not fantasizing any such thing at all. There is a big difference between making fun of Toyota and throwing in an Alito SOTU joke (which was clearly an absurdity), and “fantasizing” about murder, or death in general. However, for those with fragile sensibilities, and for those offended easily, I will not apologize but do assure you that I’d never wish the death of Obama. On the other hand, in the real world and given the context of my post, you don’t have to worry, since O would never be caught dead (there I go again) in a Toyota.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      I got the Alito joke, and I also understood Criminalenterprise’s reply to be equally humourous.

    • 0 avatar
      criminalenterprise

      It didn’t seem like much of a joke. For one, it’s reaching. For two, it doesn’t reference any real or perceived sentiment other than the ones that play out in your own head. I understand humor, and I think I’m more offended by the fact that your “joke” was tragically devoid of insight or wit.

      Your joke is not of sufficient quality and is tasteless. Perhaps you should apply for a job as a Toyota engineer.

    • 0 avatar
      windswords

      Bertel,

      Hasn’t Obama bowed three times already to the Burger King?

    • 0 avatar
      mpresley

      criminalenterprise: I understand humor, and I think I’m more offended by the fact that your “joke” was tragically devoid of insight or wit.

      First, if what I wrote wasn’t funny that’s one thing (although I thought it was at least moderately clever). However, that’s no reason to call for me being banned, or admonished by the blog owners. You should try and be more tolerant. I don’t appreciate being reported just because you are offended by an obvious joke (even if it was a bad one). If Ed, or Paul, or Bertel tells me to put a sock on it I’ll listen. I respect them and appreciate the forum they provide. When a guy from left field attempts to call out the cops, that’s something else entirely.

      How anyone could think I was fantasizing about the President’s death shows an utter lack of humor and rigidity. My advice to you (and a few others here) is not to be “offended” so easily. Today, it seems that everyone wants to go around just waiting to be offended, and then are happy to call out the thought police when their precious sensibilities are disturbed. Fortunately, those that moderate and produce TTAC can recognize the difference between mean spirited hate and attempts at mere humor (even if it’s lame humor), whether to your liking or not.

      Second, how is it a “tragedy” that I lack wit or insight when attempting comedy? Do you know what the word means? In keeping with the theater metaphors, I’d say you’re being melodramatic. The truth is, you were upset because I made a political joke against your man (or your car), and you reacted hastily by writing something ridiculous. Well, here’s the deal: it’s no longer just about cars. Today, politics is so entangled within the car business and on so many levels that it’s impossible to separate out. And because of that, you have to expect some political commentary on a car site. The fact that I tried to do it in a humorous way should be commended, I think.

      Perhaps you should apply for a job as a Toyota engineer.

      Me being a Toyota engineer would be a bad joke.

  • avatar
    Cammy Corrigan

    “ABC reports with glee” Really, where? I read that link and it seemed pretty fair handed to me.

    Also, what’s with the “or not”? Akio Toyoda apologised for causing customers worry, but didn’t want to comment further until the investigations were over. Again, seems fair to me.

    Incidentally, I read this link:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/8488377.stm

    about a guy whose Toyota Auris went out of control and crashed. His quote?

    “I don’t think Toyota have deceived me. And I’m not angry with them”

    He’s a lot more forgiving than I’d be!

    On a side note, it seems that the trade war between China and United States, may just have been taken to the next level!

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/8488765.stm

    • 0 avatar
      YotaCarFan

      The account by the British man who’s Toyota Auris accelerated out of control is the first I’ve seen where someone described in any detail the circumstances under which the problem occurred. According to him, a slight press of the pedal caused the engine to run way faster than it should’ve, whether the transmission was in D or R. And, releasing the pedal caused the engine to return to idle. Assuming his account is accurate and no driver error was involved, then possible failure modes are (1) weakened or binding return spring, allowing light press to push pedal all the way down; (2) Misalignment of internal sensor; (3) throttle servo return spring weak; and, (4) faulty servo position sensor. The last two would probably need to happen together for the failure to occur, so that’s an unlikely failure mode.

  • avatar

    Cammy: I had the video checked by a well-mannered Japanese national who just happens to be around. She says the impromptu apology comes across as insincere.

    • 0 avatar
      Cammy Corrigan

      My name isn’t Carrie and I’m guessing this well mannered Japanese national is someone you know well, right? ;O)

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Hi Bertel, Please ask your third of the Charlie’s Angels triumvirate if she noted an amazing number of “ah-no” (translation: “ya’ know”) in Mr. T’s reply … I never encountered this in all my time in Japan … in her opinion, is an increasing use of this term similar to that in english when it is a clear sign that the other person is parsing words under stress?

    • 0 avatar
      Daanii2

      I listened to the interview. The impromptu interview happened when the NHK crew caught Akio Toyoda in the hotel lobby in Davos as he was leaving.

      That Toyoda put down his papers and spoke to the camera crew without preparation or advance notice was itself unusual and impressive. I thought his answers — off the cuff as they were — sounded good. Sounded sincere to me.

      Clearly Toyota has a big problem here. Myself, I think it has been blown all out of proportion. But how Toyoda and others handle it will determine their company’s future.

      It will be interesting to see what happens. So far, I think they have done okay. Not well. Not bad. Just okay.

  • avatar

    Sorry, Cammy, getting late in Beijing and being on antihistamines doesn’t help either. Yes, I know her. She’s quite reliable.

  • avatar
    Runfromcheney

    I feel really bad for Akio Toyoda, because this whole clusterf**k is not his fault; Katsuaki Watanabe’s fingerprints are all over this mess.

  • avatar
    Jimal

    I’m not a huge fan of Toyota (or the Japanese auto industry for that matter) but the racist comments need to stop. Is there a version of Godwin’s Law that covers references to ritual suicide in general and seppuku (hari kari) in particular in internet threads? They add nothing to the conversation. Please stick with the facts, for there are plenty.

    • 0 avatar

      I did not see your comment before I suggested that they commit Seppuku. I don’t think the hatred of Toyota is “racist” so much as it is “nationalist”.

      After all, I have a lot to gain from their utter destruction…I own stock in some of their competitors including FORD.

      I’ll give them this: I like the interior space of the Venza and the Camry moreso than their competitors – with the exception of Nissan.

    • 0 avatar
      Jimal

      The dislike (or “hatred”, to use your word) of Toyota itself may or may not be racist. My dad is a GM retiree so I have somewhat of an indirect vested interested in GM doing better than it has been, espeically if it is at Toyota’s expense.

      The racist part, which I’m seeing more and more, is the obligatory reference to “honor” ritualistic disembowlment whenever a Japanese company or its executives are thought to have screwed up.

      It is this stereotyping that allowed the Japanese manufacturers to gain their foothold in the first place with small, efficient cars. Had we taken them seriously instead of dismissing them as we did back in the 60’s and 70’s our auto industry might not be in the shape it is in.

    • 0 avatar
      Daanii2

      There is nothing racist about suggesting, not seriously, that an executive should commit seppuku when they make an error. Insensitive, maybe, but not racist. Japanese people themselves say it too.

    • 0 avatar

      “Aug. 13, 2007 — Zhang Shuhong, who ran the Lee Der Industrial, killed himself at a warehouse on Saturday; days after China announced it had temporarily banned exports by the company, the Southern Metropolis Daily said, as reported by cnn.com.

      The company was the manufacturer of the 967,000 toys recalled in the U.S. earlier this month by Mattel as the toys were made with paint which contained excessive amounts of lead…

      …In China, it is not unusual for disgraced officials to commit suicide.”

      THERE YOU HAVE IT !

      Suicide is the only logical answer !

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Shouldn’t he have said: “We’re extremely sorry to have killed a few customers”?

  • avatar
    imag

    Maybe he didn’t apologize because this is a tiny, tiny thing being all blown out of proportion by media, fearmongering, and people who always wanted to find new ways to hate the Japanese.

    What gets me is that the same people who say they are all libertarian, act like they don’t want the so-called nanny state -those are often the same people who freak out about something like this, or some idiotic bomber gets on a plane.

    Dudes (and ladies) – this is not reality. You want a news flash, here it is: any car’s floor mats can get in the way of the pedals. Guess what else – if we protect the planes, people can just blow up the security line, or the baseball stadium. You’re still many, many times safer than any human or animal that ever lived before 100 years ago. And no matter what, you’re way more likely to get in any random, ordinary accident in that car you love so much. So please cut out the BS.

    • 0 avatar
      Jimal

      Seems to me if this were simply a matter of the floor mats getting in the way the previous recall would have addressed the issue and we wouldn’t be hearing much else about it. Media hype or not, this does not appear to be the case.

  • avatar
    IGB

    Why are sensitivities so high? My seppuku comment was tongue in cheek. Yes, it has references to an ancient Japanese ritual, one that was practiced when someone had been shamed. Toyoda is in fact Japanese.

    Must we all be reduced to some gray homologous genderless human unit without national, racial or cultural identity upon which, yes, we can be parodied and poked fun at? Is this what we strive for?

    If it came to that, you know what we would all end up driving…a Camry.

  • avatar
    BMWfan

    Ladies and Gentlemen,

    As the owner of a 2005 Avalon, purchased new, I feel that I am qualified to speak regarding this whole mess. I truly believe that Toyota has handled this entire situation in the worst way possible. To send replacement pedals (if this really is the problem) to plants first, is unconscionable. They owe the public that purchased their cars a rapid and proper solution first, and their priority should be with repairing cars already on the road rather than trying to keep the line running. My wife drives the Avalon and I am torn as to what action to take. The car has never exhibited any symptoms of the problem. I also wish to say that I am extremely disappointed in some of the “Best and the Brightest”. To wish Toyota to fail, or to mention “seppuku” regarding the leaders at Toyota is beyond bad taste. Please remember there are American workers involved here at plants in Kentucky and elsewhere that have families to feed. They as well as the drivers of the affected vehicles are the true victims here. Does anyone honestly believe that the leaders at Toyota wanted this to happen? The posters that have made insensitive remarks should be ashamed of themselves. Automobiles are complicated machines. With continued computerization of subsystems, problems are bound to develop. Let us all hope for a rapid determination of the cause, and an efficient implementation of the solution.

  • avatar
    DweezilSFV

    I don’t know: seems like selective sensitivity since many posters have no qualms about making disparaging and stereotypical remarks about people with mullets, pick up truck owners, people who buy Chryslers, people who live in trailers, the people of Walmart and the ever popular “old white men” comments that seem to crop up on a regular basis. The left right thing is tedious as well.

    Step away from the keyboard for a minute folks.Anyone with an opinion or comment is going to offend someone’s “sensibilities”. And we’ll all live.

  • avatar
    Canucknucklehead

    The racist comments here are in extremely bad taste. One of the reasons I have enjoyed posting here is that this site, under its previous management, had extremely high standards for such things. They are now, sadly, slipping.

    I lived in Japan for several years. In Japanese culture, the CEO of a major company deeply bowing is a sign of sincere apology. The phrase, “honto ni” means “I am truly (sincerely)” and is the a very humble honourific for a man in Toyoda’s position to use.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      @Canucknucklehead:

      In defense of the current TTAC team, I’m not so sure that the old boss would have moderated the comments in this thread.

      Just take a look at his G35 review.

  • avatar
    Kristjan Ambroz

    …and he drove off in an Audi, because Audi has for a while been the company providing the limos for Davos (and several other similar events, for publicity purposes).

    Occasionally the odd primadonna appears who plain refuses to ride in one of the cars provided and demands a car of their own choosing (a certain Italian I remember would only be driven in a Quattroporte). Mr. Toyoda is probably too well mannered for something such.

    A very similar arrangement was had at the University of St.Gallen for the ISC conference, where many of the same personalities, who would go to Davos, attended as well. For several years, they got some MB S class cars in addition to the Audis provided for free, to chauffeur the more discerning clientele around – it appears the perception of the A8 was not quite there until even 3 or so years back. Not sure if that practice persists, or if it was changed in the meantime.

  • avatar
    Ronman

    what’s up with you guys crying Seppoku and Toyoda in the same phrase?

    the problem has been around longer than Toyoda has been on the mount… i think Toyoda is a breath of fresh air at Toyota and things should turn around for the company, this recall is not even close to the Corvair and other hazards ^&*(^*& GM peddled to the world, and they did stay at the top for longer than they should have…

    this is but a hick-up in Toyota’s contemprary history, as they say when s&*(&*( happens it happens in the dozens… i expect for Toyota to pick itself up, dust itself off within 6 month, and no one will remember anything about this….

    after all it’s the MSM that blew this thing out of proportion without explaining the clear facts, putting the regular Joe in a perplexed situation… if the media took its time and explained to people what leads to this problem then maybe Toyota dealers wouldnt have to answer so many phone calls….


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