Crisis Averted? A Quick Lesson in Crisis Communication from Toyota

2010 has not been the best of years for Japanese automaker, Toyota. Once known for its reliability and safety, Toyota’s brand image has taken a major hit due to several recalls over the past year. At the beginning of 2010 the car manufacturer was forced to recall millions of vehicles due to a sticking accelerator pedal that led to accidents, and even deaths in severe cases. Just last week, Toyota announced another recall on over 1 million Toyota and Lexus models due to faulty brake master cylinder seals and fuel pumps. The defective seals could cause break fluid to leak onto the break pads, causing them to deteriorate and become spongy, thus making them less effective and even dangerous.

First, their cars accelerated on their own, now their cars can’t stop? Yikes! These two major recalls don’t exactly speak to Toyota’s image of being reliable and safe. Because of this, the automaker has had to step up and do some major crisis communication. Luckily, Toyota gained some valuable experience with their first major recall, making last week’s recall seem minor in comparison.

Unlike the first recall of the year, where Toyota supposedly knew about the flawed accelerator long before they decided to alert the public, this time the company quickly addressed the defective seals and issued a voluntary recall. In any crisis it is important for a company to make the public aware of the issue before it is leaked to the media. If this is done properly, the company can save face. If they try to hide the issue it may appear as if they do not care about the safety of consumers, which has the potential to create even bigger problems.

The way the crisis is addressed by the company also has a major impact on how well it is received by the public. Toyota’s January recall is a prime example of what not to do when handling a crisis. Their lackluster crisis communication left a lot to be desired, but with October’s recall the company has done a much better job. Recall information is readily available on Toyota’s website, however, what is more noticeable are Toyota’s “Safety First” advertisements at the top of the recall page. Because of all of the issues plaguing the Japanese carmaker, their crisis communication team has gone in to overdrive in attempt to repair the brand’s tarnished image, hence the reason all of the Toyota commercials you see today are centered around safety and reliability.

All in all, Toyota has done a much better job handling its second major recall of the year, but issuing two major recalls does not do wonders for the brand’s image. Thanks to some help from their crisis communication team, we have seen the company recover a little, but it is still going to feel the effects from the issues it has faced this year. We’ll have to wait and see how good their PR is in the upcoming months to see if they can regain their position as one of the top auto brands in America.

Sarah McIntosh, Sean O’Connell, Eliza Wadson, Jocelyn Walson