Toyota Crisis: Hell Hath ...


Scorn makes for good storytelling.

It brings out emotion and ultimately unscripted drama.

Look no further than the bevy of reality TV shows cranking out the profits to understand the appeal of NOT knowing how the story will turn out.

With this in mind, I suspect we’re going to see and read a helluva story on Monday (March 8, 2010) when according to The Wall Street Journal Toyota moves to discredit its critics.

If you want to see the imprint of Toyota hiring two well-connected D.C.-based PR agencies to shape its outbound communications, watch the fireworks on Monday.

No question, the folks from Glover Park Group and Quinn Gillespie & Associates have been busy beavers applying their version of communications honed on the political front.

According to the Journal story, Toyota will challenge the credibility of the whistleblower:

The company is providing reporters with court filings that it says show the former employee has a history of mental illness and poor performance reviews.

In fact, Toyota has already started attacking the credibility of former employee Dimitrios Biller sending an e-mail to The Journal that highlighted:

Copies of legal filings that include negative job reviews for Mr. Biller at a past employer and highlight mental-health issues.

Welcome to the Gordon Liddy school of communications (“nice” snaring job reviews from another company).

Apparently, David Gilbert, the professor from Southern University who claims to have replicated the sudden acceleration in Toyota cars without creating an error code, also stands in Toyota’s line of fire:

“The Gilbert demonstration is a hoax or a parlor trick,” said the person familiar with Toyota’s thinking…

The person familiar with Toyota’s thinking?

As if there’s only one such person.

I can’t say this comes across as stellar Journal reporting either given “the person familiar with Toyota’s thinking” is the PR person whispering in the ear of the journalist.

In contrast, Toyota’s Web site offers a rebuttal to the good professor without resorting to name calling:
“The analysis of Professor’s Gilbert’s demonstration establishes that he has reengineered and rewired the signals from the accelerator pedal. This rewired circuit is highly unlikely to occur naturally and can only be contrived in a laboratory.  There is no evidence to suggest that this highly unlikely scenario has ever occurred in the real world.  As shown in the Exponent and Toyota evaluations, with such artificial modifications, similar results can be obtained in other vehicles.”
In spite of its Web site taking the high ground, Toyota has left the cuddly confines of Ronny Malone, the Toyota technician who headlines the TV advertisement with the words, “I’ve got a family too. I’ve got a mother, grandmother and kids and we all drive in these cars”

Lord knows, I’ve taken my own shots at Toyota (three to be exact with the latest being Customer Letter No 4 Loses Its Way).

But Toyota isn’t the first mega brand to suffer from the-gang-can’t-shoot-straight communications.

Given the company is the largest car maker in the world and has deposited equity in the brand karma bank for years, I assumed they would eventually bounce back.

Now, I’m not so sure.

I don’t think Mr. Toyoda and his compadres have any idea about the line they’re about to cross on Monday.

To communicate through character assassination and a smear campaign is to reach a point of no return.

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