By on March 1, 2010

„Itai!“ Or rather, „tong!“ Ouch, that hurts: Toyota boss Akio Toyoda bowed deeply to 300 reporters assembled in Beijing, and to 1.3b Chinese who could watch the drama live on national TV. Four times in one hour, Toyota’s chief  “apologized to customers in China for the company’s quality problems and emphasized the significance of the nation’s fast-growing market to his company,” as Shanghai Daily has it. There must be nothing more painful for an upstanding Japanese captain of industry than to bow deeply in front of the Chinese. But as they say in China: „bú tòng bù qiáng.” No pain, no gain.  Even more astonishing:

Toyoda flew straight to Beijing from the U.S., did not stop in Tokyo, not even to get a change of unscorched clothes after he had “faced a grilling last week in Washington DC by American lawmakers” as the fast learning Shanghai Daily writes,

“The Chinese market is very important, so I flew here in person in the hope my personal expression of an apology and explanation will give customers some relief,” Toyoda said in Beijing.

Toyota recalled a mere 75,522 RAV4 SUVs in China in late January – a drop in the bucket, seen in relationship to the 8.5 million vehicles Toyota had to pull worldwide since October.

Some of the press felt slighted, and asked Toyoda why so few vehicles were recalled in China and whether that meant Toyota was discriminating against Chinese customers. Toyoda answered, no worry, the other vehicles sold in this country did not use components that led to recalls.

Denying previous whispers that Toyota’s February sales might be down by 20 percent in China, the China Passenger Car Association now estimates that Toyota’s sales with two local joint-venture partners were up solidly in February from a year earlier. Preliminary numbers indicate that sales of the joint venture with Guangzhou Automobile Group climbed 50 percent to 17,500 units, while sales at the joint venture with FAW jumped 106 percent to 40,400 units. Exact data are expected in a few days. These early numbers point to a very strong February in China overall.

Masahiro Kato, president of  Toyota China operations, said the worldwide ruckus is not causing a major drop in  sales in China.

Toyota underperformed in the Chinese market, the world’s largest. Last year, Toyota sold 709,000 vehicles in China, up only 21 percent from 2008, while the overall Chinese auto market jumped 45 percent to 13.6 million units. For this year, Toyota maintains a cautious target of 800,000 units in China. In January, sales of Toyota vehicles in China grew 53 percent from the same month last year. Sales for all vehicles in China rocketed up 126 percent in January. Last year, Toyota sold 1.554 million units in the U.S.A. China is Toyota’s fastest-growing market, but also a market where it holds only 5 percent.

China’s national news service Xinhua beamed the picture of a contrite Akio Toyoda around the world, but refrained from making any disparaging remarks, even after Associated Press had complained that “China’s state-controlled media have made only muted comment on the recalls, in contrast to the blistering criticism Toyoda faced from American lawmakers.”

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13 Comments on “Toyota Boss Bows To Beijing...”


  • avatar
    twotone

    The button down shirt is either a sign of humility or a lack of business fashion sense.

    Twotone

  • avatar
    BDB

    It can’t feel good to be down double digits in the world’s two largest car markets. Especially when one of those markets had a godawful 2009.

    If both those numbers come true this week Toyota is really screwed short term.

  • avatar
    mpresley

    Must be pretty hard. Many Chinese are…uh…(how should I put this?)…not overly fond of their Japanese pals across the sea. I’m guessing among the Japanese the feeling’s mutual? But I’ve always said that if you give them a Crown Athlete, or even a pedestrian Camry, all is forgotten. Or at least pretty much compartmentalized and filed away.

  • avatar
    CarPerson

    When Mr. Toyoda states Toyota will re-engineer the ECU firmware, release it for peer and public review, and update every Toyota still on the road with the new firmware, he will only then be walking the talk.

    Mr. Toyoda’s comments that the Toyota vehicles in China are Ok is total Bull. They have the same ECU flaws as everywhere else.

    It’s clear that Toyota, like General Motors, has an endless supply of hubris.

    • 0 avatar
      Tricky Dicky

      CarPerson – what ECU flaws exactly? Must be missing something here? Do you mean the Prius brakes recalibration? That’s the only software issue I know about. Does any OEM publish firmware code for peer review? Of course not – it’s a nonsense and they needn’t do it. In the Prius case, the software worked exactly how it was supposed to – the actual problem was that the way it was designed to work, was different from the way that some customers thought it should work.

      The mistake Toyota have made is to allow all this to be cast as a major safety issue, when in fact it is just a recalibration (all the same, this should have been achieved before production started). I wonder why the issue has only come up now – after all, the Prius is a well established model?

    • 0 avatar
      CarPerson

      Ordinarily I would agree this information is proprietary.

      However, because this is a vital safety issue, Toyota has demonstrated no expertice in preventing and mitigating UA fault conditions, and finally, Toyota’s current hell-bent campaign of mis-information and mis-direction to keep the Engine Control Unit (ECU) out of the spotlight, I would demand the curtain be pulled back on their efforts.

      They have thrown away all right to work on this in secret.

      The mistake Toyota made was to sign off a Engine Contol Unit (ECU) design that is poorly designed as measured against sound engineering principles and other automaker’s designs. People have died and will continue to die until these defects are addresssed.

    • 0 avatar
      Tricky Dicky

      CarPerson – think you are confused. Despite a raft of expert witnesses addressing possible electronics issues with Toyota accelerators, no fault has been found or established. That is not the same thing as a corporation being hell-bent on a campaign of misinformation. In fact, the biggest criticism people have been making about their response is that it’s too slow and they aren’t saying much else apart from sorry they’ve let their customers down.

      Where is this defect you are ranting about?

      I do agree that they certainly don’t have enough diagnostics inside the vehicle to proove anything, but in the mind of a brilliant Japanese engineer, why have all those extra bits when what they’ve got already works? That’s the problematic mindset I think – a kind of infallible belief in the quality of their work.

  • avatar
    OldandSlow

    Common sense would tell you if there is a software design flaw, then we would see tens of thousands SUA reports, given the number of Toyotas on the road. This ain’t happening.

    Meanwhile, from a much smaller population of Lincoln Town Cars we see a more reports of SUA than with all Toyotas combined.

    What’s interesting is that the Town Car is basically a gussied up Crown Vic. Both share the same platform and engines. Yet, the Crown Vic, which was produced in far greater numbers, has a much lower number of SUA reports than the Town Car.

    Call me a skeptic, but I not buying into the mass media hysteria.


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