How Japan views Toyota recall woes
In Japan, Toyota recall woes were met first with disbelief and then with an onslaught of criticism from Japanese media outlets more accustomed to eulogizing the 'Toyota way.'
But in the wake of the global recall of 8.5 million cars affected by acceleration and brake problems, that maxim has a decidedly hollow ring to it.
Soon after the failure of Japan Airlines underlined the perils of poor management, rampant expansion, and ruinously cozy ties with the bureaucracy, Japan is only just coming to terms with its latest corporate fiasco.
Around the world, Toyota is now regarded as the sick man of Japan Inc., and its disastrous handling of the recall a symptom of wider unaccountability and arrogance that could hit the country’s exports.
At home, fiercely loyal Japanese drivers are wondering how a firm with a deserved reputation for quality and reliability could allow substandard vehicles to slip through its vaunted quality-control apparatus. Indeed, Toyota has fallen so far, so fast, that for a while Japan was simply in denial, from the Toyota executives who blamed US-made parts and even American drivers, to the pundits who sensed a US-led conspiracy aimed at denting Japan’s export industry.
But the global recall of the Prius hybrid, a model largely manufactured at home, has punctured any sense of defect immunity the Japanese might have once felt. That move pushed the number of cars recalled by Toyota since October to 8.4 million.
“This is obviously not just a technical problem, but a managerial one, too,” says Yukio Noguchi, a finance professor at Waseda University in Tokyo. “Toyota has always seen itself as different from the standard Japanese company. It is stubborn and has absolute confidence in itself. But as we have seen, it is not very good at communicating with its customers.”
Visit to Congress next week
Akio Toyoda, the company’s president, has presided over a public relations debacle that has invited charges of aloofness. That sentiment is strongest in the United States, where Toyota’s US head, Yoshimi Inaba, will attempt to win over customers and politicians during an appearance before a congressional committee next week that will demand the kind of stellar performance for which his firm’s cars were once revered.
Mr. Toyoda has said he will not attend the hearings, although he might reconsider if he is invited specifically by Congress.
On Wednesday, the firm announced plans to improve its quality control apparatus and admitted it had grown “too fast.” But the news Wednesday that the Corolla, the world’s best-selling car, may have steering problems will do nothing to rescue its stateside reputation.
'Lost' decades – and now this?
The mudslinging directed at Toyota over the past fortnight could not have come at a worse time for Japan. It has just entered its third “lost” decade of economic languor, while its manufacturing titans – spanning autos to consumer electronics – are still nursing the bruises inflicted by the global slump.