Toyota Must 'Right the Consumer at Any Cost'

Viewpoint: To Keep Its Rep Intact, Automaker Has to Provide Direct Support to Dealers, Customers

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Jordan  <a href='' class='directory_entry' title='AdAge Directory'>Zimmerman</a>
Jordan Zimmerman
Toyota is a company that has built its entire franchise on quality and reliability, and today, it faces being discredited at its very core. The carmaker's corporate-communications department has, so far anyway, attempted to make the recall of 2.3 million vehicles sound like a typical single-vehicle recall. But it wasn't -- not by a long shot.

You don't have to look any further than the Audi brand between 1978 and 1982 to see how faulty acceleration can put a severe break on sales and trust. Audi had one model affected; Toyota has eight.

Further, this was not just a recall of certain cars that could potentially be faulty. What Toyota did was shut down the assembly line for eight vehicles that could potentially put people at risk. In all my years in the automotive-advertising business, I've never witnessed such a thing. What it screams is: "This was not a slip; it is a severe and total breakdown in operational standards."

It's hard for Toyota to spin that the recall was an act of good corporate citizenship for the betterment of all. Emperor Toyota, meet Captain Obvious. Toyota had no other choice. How does it expect to have customers safely drive back into the dealership, let alone go to work, drive their kids to school and simply live their lives?

The situation Toyota finds itself in could be the shot heard 'round the world that reverses the fortunes of yet another established company. This car company now has only one chance to emerge from this very thorny situation with its reputation not entirely broken, and that is what I call "righting the consumer at any cost."

Toyota must recognize that corporate intention means nothing without empowering the retail dealer base to solve actual problems. This includes: financially supporting the dealers' need to tow cars for service; provide loaner cars at no cost and no hassle; adding service personnel to increase speed of repairs; and offering consumers full value for their vehicles to promote safer trade-ins. Basically, everything so the consumer is surprised and delighted.

Toyota has already wasted precious time, and if it doesn't act soon to address the problem and embrace these actions, the Toyota brand could go the way of the Yugo.

Jordan Zimmerman is founder-chairman of Zimmerman Advertising, part of Omnicom Group.
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