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toyota crisis pr

When it comes to a crisis, everyone tends to fixate on the “bad press.”

I think it’s more revealing to zero in on the communications controlled by the offending company.

How are they telling their story within their control?

That’s why I find the Toyota open letters to customers so fascinating.

Just because you control the words doesn’t mean you get the story right.

Playing backseat driver, I’ve weighed in on three letters:

In aggregate, the letters haven’t been very good, which unfortunately also describes the fourth called “Our Commitment to Customers.”

The first line sets the tone:

History shows that great companies learn from their mistakes.

Gentlemen, I thought we established back in the letter No. 2 days that people don’t embrace history lessons when they’re worried about charging cars.

On the positive side, I like the idea that you’ve packaged three points for easy consumption.

On the not-so-good side, the points aren’t the right points.

First, we are fixing the vehicles covered by our recent recalls.

Talk about misreading the crowd. People kind of expect you to fix the malfunctioning vehicles.

But it’s the second point that illustrates how Toyota still views the crisis through an intellectual lens:

Toyota engineers have rigorously tested our solutions – and we are confident that no problems exist with the electronics in our vehicles.

  • We’ve designed our electronic throttle control system with multiple fail-safe mechanisms to shut off or reduce engine power in the event of a system failure. And they work.
  • But we’re not stopping there. We’ve asked a world-class engineering firm to conduct a comprehensive, independent analysis. Their interim report confirms that our fail-safe features work.
  • Toyota will make the results of this comprehensive, independent evaluation available to the public when it is completed.

Again, we see gamesmanship with language that “no problems exist with the electronics,” meaning the rest of the car remains a wildcard.

Not good.

And you’ve got the electronic throttle control system to work, but you’re “not stopping there?” Given what’s transpired over the past few months, I would have to characterize this decision as wise but not exactly one that builds equity in the brand.

By the time you get to the third point about “transparency” you’ve lost the audience.

And the sign-off points back to Toyota’s heritage of building safe cars for 50 years.

Everyone knows Toyota has been cranking out safe cars at a good price forever. You don’t have to keep the reminders coming. Let the withdrawal from the karma bank happen naturally.

I do have one final suggestion for the Toyota gang –

Don’t write any more letters.

P.S. Quick reminder that we’re curating a “Toyota Crisis PR Resource” page which will be updated by the end of the week. If you have thoughts or content for the page, by all means send them my way.


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