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TOYOTA AND TIGER HAVE A LOT IN COMMON
More Auto Industry Thoughts by Springboard
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Reputation is everything. If you don't think so, just take a look at what happened to Tiger Woods after the debacle over his infidelities. Not that Tiger's career is necessarily over, but certainly things are on hold for now. And the certainty of his future being as big as it was before all of this shocking news surfaced about his life is not so certain anymore. There's also something else that comes to my mind when I think about Tiger Woods and what happened to him—he was big. He was really big. Maybe too big. Remember that old saying, "the bigger they are, the harder they fall?" Tiger Woods fell pretty hard.
It's sort of the same situation Toyota Motor Company is facing right now. They're going through a pretty rough time to be sure. Toyota is scrambling to recall nearly half of their fleet of cars due to a gas pedal problem which apparently may cause the driver to experience unintended acceleration—without a fix, mind you. There are some ideas floating around, and the original manufacturer, which made the pedals to Toyota's specifications, have said that they have a redesigned pedal going into quick production as we speak. But nothing has been officially released as of this writing.
On top of that, Toyota will now have to explain themselves to Congress as documents about the recall are being requested from the company, as well as from U..S. safety regulators. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said he has concern over the seriousness and scope of the recent recall announcements.
I make the Tiger Woods comparison because if you think about it, both Tiger and Toyota had strong reputations for not only being the best at what they did, but for who they were. In a way, a trust was built between them and the people who loved them, and trust is a very big thing. Once that trust is broken, It's a very hard thing to get back.
It's true that Toyota is not hiding from the problem. But like the Tiger Woods story, it may also be just the icing on the cake.
When the Tiger Woods story hit the wire, things only got worse from there. Women practically came out of the woodwork. The only thing we didn't have was someone claiming to have Tiger's baby—wait, it may not be over yet. So, the question jumps into my mind, what else might we learn about Toyota? How much may the company have kept from the American public as it sought domination in the US auto market? While GM and Chrysler were both collapsing in the worst economic decline since the Great Depression, this was Toyota's shot at the big time. They were already the world's largest automaker, but the US market still largely belonged to GM, and this was the nut they wanted to crack. When you're that close to the prize, you don't want someone tugging at your coattails to tell you there's a problem. That there's a big problem.
There's no wrongdoing to speak of at this time. We'll just have to wait and see what happens.
Still, it's not going to be a bed of roses for Toyota even if nothing is uncovered. At the end of the day brand is everything. Brand integrity is the lion's pride. Safety and quality have become synonymous with Toyota, and now that's in serious question. It's going to hurt them Tiger Woods style.
Already, three major rental car companies have removed Toyota's from their rental fleets, and a major distributor of used cars for dealers has also suspended sales of Toyotas. It's going to be a rocky road future for Toyota Motor Company, of that there's no doubt. They're not going to go out of business. This recall situation isn't going to destroy them entirely as a company. Just like the debacle over all those women isn't going to destroy Tiger Woods entirely. He'll be back on the golf course one day, and Toyota's will still adorn the nation's highways. But I'm inclined to believe that after the smoke clears, Toyota will simply not be the car company that it was before, and Tiger will never be anyone's golden child again. When things like this happen, it changes things. It changes people's perceptions. And anyone knows that a reputation is the hardest thing in the world to get back once it's been tarnished.
Just ask GM, Chrysler, or Ford about that.