On Tuesday, Toyota announced the possibility of recalling up to 3.8 million U.S. vehicles due to a potentially fatal floor mat. Why? Earlier this month, a family of four was killed when their car entered an intersection at speeds greater than 120 mph, apparently the result of the driver's side floor mat becoming accidentally wedged under the gas pedal. Though the recall would be the largest in the company's history, it would certainly not be the first: In 1969, Toyota announced a recall of some 55,000 cars in the U.S. over faulty break tube. In 1989, the Japanese government scolded Toyota for having to recall all 8,000 Lexus LS400s sold in the U.S. And yet none of the previous recalls made a lasting stain on the brand, at least not in terms of sales numbers. Commentators at Business Week debate just who's to blame for the rumored recall, and what it will mean for Toyota going forward:
- Toyota's a Repeat Offender "Every carmaker has recalls," writes Business Week's David Welch "But Toyota has had some big ones in recent years." He blames Toyota's rapid growth into new markets recently for a decline in quality-control. Granting Toyota a measure of praise for the company's willingness to admit its mistakes, he still finds the future less bright. Matthew DeBord is on board with this assessment. Writing for The Big Money, he notes Toyota's recent run of bad fortune but chastises the company for its perceived drop in quality: "This is just the latest recall that Toyota has initiated—although perhaps the most embarrassing. How much does this component cost Toyota? A few bucks? Oh boy ... "
- Not All Toyota's Fault Labeling the news a "PR disaster for Toyota," Megan McArdle of the Atlantic Business Channel places some of the blame for the high-profile accident on the driver's inability to think quickly. "What I sort of don't get is, why didn't they just shift into neutral, slam on the emergency lights, pull the parking brake, and coast to a stop?" Blogger Ron Hogan is even more frustrated with Toyota drivers who have experienced floor-mat issues: "It’s not like you can’t easily fix the problem by, I don’t know, moving the mat back from the pedals a few inches? Is it asking too much for people to keep an eye on the condition of their automobile? I suppose it is." Meanwhile, David Thomas at the auto-blog Kicking Tires claims that "any automaker's floormats can slide forward if they're not attached to a hook that keeps them in place. However, the Lexus and Toyota models in question include a hook that can be detached from the carpet, meaning there are two ways for the floormat to become dislodged. According to Hanson, the design stems from the fact that floormats are an option across the Toyota lineup, and someone buying a car without them wouldn’t want a fixed stem protruding from the carpet."
- Toyota's Gonna Be Okay assures Yuri Kageyama at Business Week. He points out how easy the problem is to fix ("exchanging floor mats") compared to other recalls that involved actual mechanical issues, and reminds readers that Toyota was already planning on rehabbing its image in North America to make up for lagging sales during the recession. He also quotes an auto analyst who doesn't see the recall affecting Toyota's bottom line: "Recalls are never good for a company's image, but I don't foresee major damage to Toyota's earnings." Car Gurus' blogger is more sarcastic, but no less confident in Toyota's ability to rein in the problem. Comparing the impending recall to recent ones from other major car manufacturers, the blogger concludes "As far as serious issues go, this one’s about as minor as it gets. The fix? Take out the driver’s side floormat. I’m guessing there won’t be a flood of appointments at Toyota service departments on this one."
- Blessing in Disguise Finally, Business Week's David Kiley makes the claim that the recall will actually prove to be a boon for Toyota. He reminds readers of the deeply-problematic 60 Minutes "sudden unintended acceleration" expose in 1986, which targeted Audi vehicles for a similar problem. Although arguably manufactured by unreliable sources, Kiley thinks that Audi's vehement denial of any problem turned consumers off for years. Toyota, in contrast, accepted responsibility immediately and issued a public safety advisory. "The last thing the company needed to do in this sales challenged economy was deny any responsibility. And easy for them, all they have to do is tell the owners to take the factory issued mats out of the vehicles. I have to straighten out the mats in my own cars from time to time because they ride up into the pedal area. It’s common sense. But assuming common sense is wide spread is a dangerous thing to do."