Toyota’s “Acceleration” Problem and What It Means for You

Until the recent debacle over unintended acceleration, Toyota enjoyed the rewards of being a stellar global brand that could do (almost) no wrong. It was admired for its business methods – the famed Toyota Production System – as well as for its fine cars. It was the poster child for how to do things right. Now, Toyota’s cage has been rattled and the company is feeling the vibrations deep in its bones.

Jim Press – once the top Toyota executive in the U.S. – recently stated that “The root cause of [Toyota’s] problems is that the company had been “hijacked by anti-family, financially oriented pirates.” Those executives “didn’t have the character to maintain a customer-first focus.” Why would such a paragon of corporate success shoot itself in the foot? I can’t help but default to the old (and admittedly tired) adage that money is the root of all evil. I don’t want to believe that, but these guys make it hard not to.

Toyota’s acceleration debacle is poetic. Toyota’s slogan is Moving forward, which they – not just their vehicles – did, in no uncertain terms. The automotive analogies are many … hitting a wall, crashing, spinning out, etc.

I’m disappointed in Toyota. They let me down. (Disclosure: I own a Lexus SUV.) More important, they let everyone down. I expect they’ll get religion, get their act together, and once again thrive. What’s most upsetting to me is the countless number of other “Toyota’s” out there, who will wind up going down the same road as these guys. What a waste.

By contrast, there’s Ford, who earned a healthy, $2 billion-plus in the last quarter. Somehow, they managed to stick to their core principles, profiting from their identity.

Apart from fixing their product problems, and issuing heartfelt mea culpas, I think Toyota’s management should do personal penance. In the meetings they have with non-Toyota executives, in the speeches they give at conferences, even in the words they speak to their children over the dinner table, these people need to send a message: Never do what we did. Why?

Because the costs of turning your back on who you truly are, are just too high.

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