The company’s proactive and unprecedented recall and sales halt, while expensive in the short term, may protect its image.
As in any good relationship, open communication is vital and Toyota Motor Corp., which recently suspended production and sales of eight models suspected of having sticky accelerator pedal problems, now has the perfect chance to show the world how healthy a relationship it has with its customers.
The recall and sales halt, which most industry observers agree was the right move, has generated different discussions about the company’s renowned quality expertise.
“Toyota has built this reputation on quality and reliability and safety and being a practical choice. When consumers start questioning that, it really can damage them in terms of reputation, especially when Hyundai, Ford, Honda, Subaru, and Nissan offer great choices and are coming up in quality ratings,” Jake Fisher, an automotive engineer for Consumer Reports, told Reuters.
However, Toyota could minimize the adverse effects of the recall and sales halt depending on how well the company communicates with its customers, according to Dave Sargent, vice president of the global automotive division at J.D. Power and Associates.
“We feel that Toyota is taking the right steps here,” says Sargent. “It is critical that they also focus on communications with customers and dealers. There appears to be some uncertainty right now. This is understandable, but Toyota needs to be as clear as possible around what consumers should do, what dealers should say to customers and potential customers, and (when they know) when sales and production will restart. This is obviously a hugely complex challenge. Action is critical, but clear communication is also important.”
As far as the impact on overall customer satisfaction of the Toyota brand is concerned, Sargent isn’t convinced Toyota will take that big a hit.
“Historically, vehicle recalls have minimal effect [as far as customer satisfaction ratings go] as only a very tiny percentage of owners actually experience the problem,” Sargent explains. “For the majority of owners, the most significant impact will be the inconvenience of taking their vehicle in to the dealer to be fixed. The high volume of recall work is also likely to affect other owners trying to get a dealer service appointment. The effect will be largely dependent on how well Toyota and the dealers manage this process. There may also be an indirect effect coming from some consumers’ residual concerns about the general reliability of their vehicle and potential effect on the resale value. Overall the impact is likely to be less profound than might be expected.”
It’s still unclear what Toyota is going to do as a definite measure to fix the problem, but Sargent is certain that Toyota is not going to risk it’s highly valued reputation by releasing the affected vehicles before the problem has been clearly identified and fixed.
“The actions that Toyota have taken this week are clearly designed to fix the problem (and the perception of a problem) once and for all,” says Sargent. “It is highly unlikely that they will move forward without being completely satisfied that the problem is fixed. Their long-term reputation is more important to them than losing a few weeks of sales, however painful that is in the short term.”
Meanwhile, The National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) is encouraging Toyota dealers to verify whether or not they have business interruption insurance that might help them endure this crisis.
“This is creating a very difficult situation for dealers, in an already tough market. NADA is working with Toyota to identify a plan to help get dealers through this,” the association said in a statement.
Last year, the Japanese automaker issued a recall of vehicles to reduce the risk of pedal entrapment by incorrect or out of place accessory floor mats, according to a company statement. Approximately 1.7 million Toyota Division vehicles are subject to both separate recall actions.
Toyota’s accelerator pedal recall and suspension of sales is confined to the following Toyota Division vehicles: 2009-2010 RAV4, 2009-2010 Corolla, 2009-2010 Matrix, 2005-2010 Avalon, Certain 2007-2010 Camry, 2010 Highlander, 2007-2010 Tundra, 2008-2010 Sequoia.
From Quality Digest