Now Toyota has been hit by a hurricane-force storm of bad publicity. The recall of 8 million vehicles suspected of having a faulty accelerator pedal was bad enough, but it now faces having to contact owners of hundreds of thousands of Prius hybrid cars and Lexus HS250h and Sai models and tell them their brakes need checking.
These are about the worse kind of problems cars can have. Cosmetic glitches are an inconvenience to owners but faults with brakes and accelerator pedals are serious, and this saga has the potential to put a severe dent in Toyota, and Lexus’s, reputation for safety and reliability.
So I was most interested to see Toyota boss Akio Toyoda’s apology on Friday. The image of the Toyota Motors President bowing at the start of a news conference and saying he apologised ‘from the heart’ was extraordinary. But it was an essential step if Toyota is to rebuild its reputation, and watching it made me realise Westerners are often more reluctant to apologise than the Japanese.
We can, and should, learn from his candour. Any service industry that takes customer support for granted is on dangerous ground. Newspaper and magazine brands across the globe have been faced with shrinking budgets, but some well-known ones have fallen by the wayside in the last 18 months because they haven’t been able to adapt to changes in the habits of their readers and advertisers.