OPINION: Toyota suddenly slows down

By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal

When Toyota briefly overtook GM as the global automotive sales leader, it was confirmation of former Toyota President Katsuake Watanabe’s plan to grow the Japanese automaker.
Or was it?
Watanabe no longer has his job. Akio Toyoda, grandson of the company’s founder, took over last year after Toyota posted its first fiscal loss in nearly 60 years.
Watanabe was chastised for having grown the company too fast, sacrificing quality for quantity.
And nearly a year later, we may be seeing the impact.
Last week was one to forget for Toyota, which said it would stop the sales of eight models in the U.S. to fix gas pedals. Those models make up more than half of Toyota’s sales here. A week earlier, the company recalled 2.3 million of the same vehicles. And on Wednesday it recalled another 1 million vehicles in the U.S. and an additional 1.8 million in Europe.
And Toyota already recalled more than 4.2 million vehicles in the U.S. over floor mat problems.
Toyota had the dubious honor of having more vehicles recalled last year than any automaker, foreign or domestic.
Both the gas pedal and floor mat issues have led to claims and worries of “unintended acceleration,” which some say have led to several crashes involving Toyotas.
What a P.R. disaster for Toyota, which was put on a pedestal for its legendary quality.
The question is, How badly will the recalls tarnish Toyota’s image?
GM and Ford were quick to offer incentives to Toyota and Lexus buyers. More automakers are likely to follow. It’s dog-eat-dog in the auto industry, now more than ever. Can you blame rivals for closing in for the kill?
The Detroit Three automakers are probably enjoying the show. After all, they’ve been slammed by quality issues – real and perceived – for years. Now the shoe is on the other foot.
The UAW and Teamsters on Thursday protested against Toyota at Japan’s embassy in Washington, calling the automaker a “danger to America.”
Uh, before you forget, let’s remember those exploding Pintos and flipping Explorers from the past. Don’t beat the drum too loudly, folks.
Can Toyota recover? Sure it can.
Look at Ford’s shining star now, made brighter because it took no bailout money. GM is probably building its best cars. There’s even hope for Chrysler, compliments of some Italian who is not named Iacocca – that would be Fiat’s Sergio Marchionne, of course.
Automakers have been able to resurrect themselves in the past.
Unintended acceleration nearly drove German automaker Audi to the ground 24 years ago. Slowly but surely, it has become a luxury-sports sedan icon often compared to its chief rivals, BMW and Mercedes.
Toyota is no Audi. It’s a bigger, more nimble automaker with a reputation for quality.
Now it’s up to Toyota to make sure everyone knows that it’s “moving forward” on its unintended deceleration.

Contact Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1578 or dennis.seid@djournal.com