Sit tight, Toyota customers.
The auto giant is on the verge of announcing a comprehensive recall program for cars that are at risk of a sticky accelerator.
"We have a remedy," says Celeste Migliori, national manager of business and field communications for Toyota Motor Sales. "We're finalizing the details of our accelerator pedal-repair program." It will be released "soon."
For Toyota owners and dealers, it means that they will finally be able to put an end to more than a week of uncertainty after the automaker had acknowledged the problem but had no solution.
Owners of recalled Toyotas who are having problems with the accelerator should contact their dealer (click here or here for a list of the models and symptoms of the problem). Owners with no accelerator problems should check their vehicle identification number (VIN) and call Toyota's hot line: 800-331-4331 (open Monday through Friday from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. PST and Saturdays 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. PST).
For Toyota itself, another kind of waiting begins. How will the repair program be received by consumers and dealers? Did the corporation's delay so irk car buyers that they will flee to other manufacturers? Is Toyota's brand image destroyed?
That ultimately will depend on how smoothly the repair program goes, but the early indications are that Toyota has built such a strong reputation for quality over the years that it will survive this episode.
"They have a reputation that many products could only dream about," Julie Vallese, managing director of product integrity for public-relations giant Burson-Marsteller. "Toyota can rely on that, but they also need to respect it."
Here are five steps to look for Toyota to take as it begins to repair its image, say crisis-management experts.
1) Fix the problem. It's the first and most obvious of the five steps, but corporations sometimes take a long time focusing on it. "Toyota should have dealt with this in a proactive way a long, long time ago," says Michael Gordon, principal of Group Gordon Strategic Communications, a corporate and crisis public-relations firm in New York. "They need to make clear that all customers will have their cars fixed perfectly free of charge. And if for some reason they can't, they need to provide refunds."
2) Apologize. "Toyota needs to apologize to their loyal consumer base for their failure but still communicate that their goal is always to provide consumers with a safe and reliable vehicle," says Ms. Vallese.
3) Reach out. "They need to craft some op-eds out there from the leadership in the company," says Gene Grabowski, a senior vice president who heads the crisis practice of Levick Strategic Communications, a communications consulting firm in Washington, D.C. "Any newspaper in the country would take an op-ed by the CEO of Toyota explaining why they did" the recall.
4) Use testimonials. "Find allies who can tell their story, who are more creidble than they are – engineers, moms and dads, satisfied customers," says Mr. Grabowski.
5) Offer a perk. "Perhaps that's a rebate on their next vehicle purchase," says Mr. Gordon. "There is not a single person in this country who won't take a long pause before going into a Toyota dealership," so some extra incentive will be needed to lure buyers back in.
Already, these themes are beginning to emerge in Toyota's communications.
"We deeply regret the concern that our recalls are causing for our loyal customers, and we are making an all-out effort to develop and implement effective remedies as quickly as we can," said a Thursday press release.
"Nothing is more important to Toyota right now than addressing our customer and restoring their confidence," says Migliori of Toyota. "Each one of the cases that comes into our dealership will be taken care of."
That's a beginning for corporate redemption. It now hangs on the effectiveness of Toyota's promised fix.
"They need to get it right the first time," says Vallese. "They should be given a little breathing room to make sure that the fix they provide the first time around is the right one."