Recall could be deadly for Toyota's image

January 26, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
This latest decision to recall 8 models could have a devastating impact on Toyota's well-cultivated image of safety and reliability.

Image is what put Toyota on top, beating out GM as the world's best-selling car maker in 2008. It is a reputation that took many years to create and one that could take much less time to destroy.

This past weekend, in its television ads, Toyota was trumpeting the attributes that helped make it the world's largest automaker.

One ad says "Toyota has won more total quality awards than any other automaker."

But now, with a second major safety recall, Toyota's advertising claims seem empty.

Kit Yarrow, Ph.D., is a professor of marketing and psychology at Golden Gate University.

"The cornerstone of their image really is safety and reliability, and so to be challenged in that area of safety, it's a disaster for them," says Yarrow.

It is especially stunning given Toyota routinely had the fewest recalls among the six largest automakers in the U.S. market. It is also a company that engineered a huge expansion in the last 10 years. Some wonder if that growth came at the expense of quality control.

"Part of the problem for Toyota, I think, is that Ford is doing so well right now. It's a very competitive market. There's a lot of challengers out there and nobody can afford to blink right now," says Yarrow.

In fact, Ford announced on Wednesday it will hire 1,200 workers at a plant in Chicago.

Fremont Ford's Bill Corbani has received many emails recently. They are from potential buyers who plan to steer clear of a Toyota.

"I don't want to see local businesses get hurt, but we're going to step up and fill the void of the customers who are possibly weary of buying a Toyota," says Corbani.

No doubt many competitors will be looking to profit from Toyota's problems. Going forward, Toyota may find it more difficult to recover its reputation for quality and safety, than it was to build it in the first place.

Recalled models

  • 2009-2010 RAV4
  • 2009-2010 Corolla
  • 2007-2010 Camry
  • 2009-2010 Matrix
  • 2005-2010 Avalon
  • 2010 Highlander
  • 2007-2010 Tundra
  • 2008-2010 Sequoia