In his first public comment about the massive safety crisis surrounding his company, the President and CEO of Toyota apologized to his customers for causing them so much worry.
“I am deeply sorry,” said Akio Toyoda in a brief interview with the Japanese network NHK as he left his hotel in Davos, Switzerland. After the interview he was seen leaving in a black Audi.
Toyoda had been attending the economic conference with other corporate and government leaders this week, while his deputies struggled to quell a consumer rebellion triggered by the recall of nine million cars worldwide.
From the Los Angeles Times:
Toyota Motor Corp. launched a public relations blitz Sunday intended to rebuild its public image amid massive recalls and reports that several models of its cars and trucks could accelerate uncontrollably.
The company, which this weekend ran full-page ads in major newspapers including The Times, said it would announce this morning a plan to fix the vehicles. A top executive was slated to appear on television to discuss the recalls.
The moves to repair Toyota’s once-stellar reputation came as federal officials said Sunday that they had opened an investigation into an Indiana manufacturer that sold accelerators to Toyota and other automakers.
Key to the company’s public relations effort is an appearance on NBC’s “Today” show by Jim Lentz, Toyota’s head of U.S. sales, slated for this morning. Lentz is scheduled to talk about Toyota’s decision to recall eight models of cars and trucks and temporarily stop sales and production of vehicles in those lines.
In its print ads, which ran Sunday in 20 newspapers, Toyota explained its decision to halt production of cars that might have the acceleration problem. The black-and-white ads feature a large image of a “pause” button like those used in DVD players and online media. “A temporary pause,” the ad says in large print. “To put you first.”
But public relations professionals said Toyota waited too long to make its case.
“Up until now, I think they have done everything wrong,” said Barbara Casey, a Los Angeles public relations practitioner who specializes in handling business crises.
Toyota has so far failed to defend itself in the court of public opinion, said Casey, chief executive of Casey & Sayre. “They may have been in shock, but they looked completely unprepared. They needed to get out in front of this when the first accelerations happened.”
The company’s sudden-acceleration problem gained widespread attention in August, when a Lexus ES 350 driven by off-duty California Highway Patrol officer Mark Saylor sped out of control and crashed near San Diego, killing him and his family.
After that crash, Toyota initiated a series of recalls related to sudden acceleration. The scope of the recalls has grown to 9 million vehicles worldwide.
Last week Toyota ordered its dealers to stop selling the eight models that it says have the accelerator problem.
Over the weekend, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration posted a document on its website indicating that it had begun a formal investigation into CTS Corp., the Elkhart, Ind., company that makes the pedals Toyota has said are defective.
The latest federal investigation, which officially launched Tuesday, is aimed at discovering whether CTS has notified other automakers that pedals it sold them are defective. That way, NHTSA can “determine if additional defect notices are required” from other auto manufacturers. If they are, the document indicates, carmakers beyond Toyota may have to issue recalls.
Notably, the investigation does not appear to focus on whether the pedals made by CTS are indeed defective.
That flies in the face of a statement made by CTS on Friday. The parts maker, which appeared to be taken by surprise by Toyota’s recall, said it had “deep concern that there is widespread confusion and incorrect information about the role of CTS-manufactured gas pedals” in the Toyota recall, and that its pedals “should absolutely not be linked with any sudden unintended acceleration incidents.”
The Times has previously reported that safety officials have received more than 2,000 complaints of unintended acceleration in Toyota and Lexus vehicles in the last decade. Many were in reference to vehicles and model years not included in the recall. Toyota began using CTS pedals in its 2005 model year.
Last week, Ford Motor Co. recalled a small number of trucks built in China that use CTS pedals, and on Sunday, French automaker Peugeot said it would recall 90,000 vehicles it made in the Czech Republic in a joint venture with Toyota.
What to do if your accelerator gets stuck? From ozcarguide:
The [...] simplest advice was by Consumer Reports magazine, that instructed drivers to firstly brake hard, then shift the vehicle into Neutral. Once the vehicle rolled to a stop, switch off the engine.
The magazine advised that the engine would still be revving loudly as you are trying to stop the vehicle, but advised against turning it off until the engine car was stationary. The reason for this is that if you turned the key while still in motion, it could activate the steering lock and you may end up losing control of the vehicle.
While gearheads know that this method is bad for your engine, it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your and your occupants lives.
Additional tips direct from Toyota:
- Don’t pump the brakes when attempting to stop the car, press down on it firmly and hold.
- Don’t remove the key entirely from the ignition slot, instead turn it to the ACC position (prevents steering lock).