Toyota's Prez. Meets Press Over Prius, Says Nothing

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt

Oy, will they get slaughtered for that: So Toyota Prez. Akio Toyoda met the press late in the Japanese evening in Nagoya. And what did he say? Basically nothing. He said he “ordered swift action” to get a grip on the reported brake problems of the (in Japan) wildly popular Prius hybrid. But he didn’t say anything else. Recall? Shirimasen. (I don’t know.) Free repair if customer requests it? Shirimasen. Computer reflash? Shirimasen. Does Toyota know what’s going on? Shirimasen. Apparently, LaHood’s threat of bodily harm was lost in translation.

As customary and expected in Japan, Toyoda offered “a heartfelt apology for causing so much trouble to many of our customers.” And that was pretty much it. Any action to stop the trouble? Shirimasen. Asked why he convened the press conference, Toyoda said: “I thought many of our customers were worried.”

They still are. More now than before.

The only milquetoast action promised: Toyota will form a global quality control committee. And when they know what steps to take, they will take them. “I will do my best,” Toyoda said. Jya-ne! (See you later.)

Calling this a downer is the understatement du jour. Yesterday, Toyota had said that they had changed the Prius software in January. Also in January, Toyota had retooled the braking systems for cars made that month. People are anxious to know what happens with the cars they had already bought. Are they safe to drive? Shirimasen. Can it get any worse? Wakarimasen. (Can’t tell the future.) If this was for U.S. consumption, they’ll puke.

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  • Moparagain Moparagain on Feb 05, 2010

    Mr. Schmitt. Right on point. Good story. Thank You

  • Robert.Walter Robert.Walter on Feb 05, 2010

    Mr. Toyoda received his MBA from Babson College, the same alma mater as Edsel Ford II. I don't know Babson, so perhaps my next statement is unfair, and inappropriately groups Mr. Toyoda with EF2, but I remember people snickering that Ed didn't go to a "real" university, because Babson was the "kind of school scions (not Scions) go to when they can't get into the top-tier schools"... I don't want to be too critical of Mr. Toyoda (as I really do have "mitleid" for him and his situation, and my japanese-language skills are essentially nonexistant, so I try to imagine walking a mile in his moccasins before I make the following observation...), but I think it was also unwise of him, in such a critical situation to take (or at least answer) questions in English ... If you watch the AP feed, it is clear Mr. Toyoda did not understand the tense of the last question ... reporter asked "should you have moved faster?", Mr. Toyoda, hesitates, question is repeated, or translated (I only watched feed once), and then Mr. Toyoda answers the question (which I think he understood as "can you move faster?") with "I will do my best." (A statement which would be normal in Japan, but sounds very weak in the US.) Pity, because I think had he used the translator, he could have answered at his articulate best, rather than struggling as he did ... I'm not sure that too many people would watch what I watched and try to think about the contextual and cultural reasons behind it, but I am pretty certain they would be left with a bad impression (did Bertel say "puke"? It is probably not too strong a word.) Toyota Corp. is walking a fine line now in the public consciousness between looking like liars or incompetents ... they can't afford for their CEO, in an attempt to build confidence, to leave behind a poor impression. (I'm pretty sure this performance will certainly scrub more value off the share price...) Comment: Perhaps I am beginning to suffer from some kind of Stockholm-syndrome, because I am no fan-boy, and I think Toyota Corp. has been sluggish and less than forthright, but this whole train-wreck of a situation is beginning to break my heart (in a way similar to when I saw the body of the "Clipper Maid of the Seas" lying crushed and broken in that Lockerbie field, or when the Twin Towers fell.)

  • Jerry Sutherland Jerry Sutherland on Feb 06, 2010

    It could be worse-they could run ads or sell shirts that people don't like. Like Chrysler. That's a hangin' offense isn't it?

  • Robert.Walter Robert.Walter on Feb 06, 2010

    FYI: Link to IHT article about this issue. Pretty much makes pretty the messy truth Bertel shared with us...