PR Expert: Toyota In For A World Of Hurt

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toyotaAn embarrassing mistake has added to Toyota’s trouble. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told owners on Wednesday to stop driving recalled vehicles, and then did a total 180.

So what should a driver do?

For Toyota, the world’s leading auto maker, as dealerships began fixing the accelerator problem that led to the worldwide car recall, came the following from LaHood:

“Stop driving it. Take it to a Toyota dealer because they believe they have a fix for it.”

After putting a scare into owners and investors the secretary later put his comments in reverse.

“What I meant to say and what I thought I said was if you own one of these cars or if you’re in doubt, take it to the dealer and they’re gonna fix it,” LaHood said.

But the damage was done. Shares took an immediate hit on Wall Street before recovering.

It was another dark day for a world leader unable to put the breaks on its sinking image.

“The transportation secretary today made this issue a lot more serious for Toyota,” said public relations expert Ronn Torossian.

Torossian said Toyota is in for a world of hurt.

“I think this is more than the late night jokes that we’re going to see. I think this is something that can affect the brand for many years to come,” Torossian said.

The Japanese behemoth is already taking a hit. A new survey by Kelley Blue Book has found that more than 21 percent of those who said they were considering a Toyota prior to the recall now say they’re no longer considering the brand for their next vehicle.

For American auto makers, the door is open.

“The Detroit Big 3 absolutely have an opportunity to gain some market share here,” auto analyst Rebecca Linland said.

Trying to stop the bleeding are the dealers, like one in the Bronx.

“It is an issue we have to deal with, but one that we’ll deal with in a professional manner,” said Matt Wadiak of City World Toyota

That means installing shims, a stainless steel reinforcement that’s supposed to eliminate friction Toyota said is causing its pedals to stick. Floor mats jammed under the pedal is a second cause, repairs that can’t come fast enough for drivers like Smith Aratones.

“I even had an accident. I was trying to back up into it, and it, the car, just kept going,” Aratones said.

Observers said this is a perfect storm for the industry leader.

“Public relations nightmare, branding nightmare, consumer nightmare, dealer nightmare, Toyota’s problems are very, very serious,” Torossian said.

Toyota said it has temporarily suspended production of the 11 models impacted and dealers are extending their hours until all the pedals are fixed, steps that they hope will begin to put this nightmare to bed and win back the confidence of consumers.

{CBS Broadcasting/Noam Newscenter}


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