Toyota Emphasizes Corrective Action in Recall News

In Apologetic rhetoric, New media, Product recall on January 29, 2010 at 1:20 am

As news of Toyota’s gas pedal flaw continues to draw attention (and scrutiny) from the media and consumers, the company has used its corporate website and social media sites to communicate its message about the issue.

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The company posted the “Latest News” and “FAQ” regarding the incident in the press section of its website. In the “Latest News” section, the company relies on two main apologia strategies.

The first involves emphasizing corrective action. As William Benoit explained, the corrective action strategy emphasizes what the company will do to repair the damages caused by the problem, as well as steps the company is taking to prevent the event from happening again. These aspects are evident in a number of the company’s statements, including:

“We’ve identified the cause of the problem and are focusing all of our energy and resources on developing and thoroughly testing remedies.”

“Toyota has taken the unprecedented step of stopping production to help serve our customers quickly and ensure that all new Toyota vehicles going forward do not experience this problem.”

“…working closely with our pedal supplier CTS on a revised design that effectively remedies the problem…”

In addition, the company employs the strategy of bolstering as a way of highlighting positive attributes and qualities of the company. Such statements include phrases such as: “doing the right thing for our customers” and “the way Toyota has stepped up to meet our responsibilities to our customers.”

It’s important to note, however, that the closest Toyota comes to actually apologizing or accepting responsibility in the “Latest News” statement is when the company uses the words “deeply regret” (and even then the company really only stated that what they regret is “the concern that our recalls are causing for our loyal customers”).

On a positive note, the company has done a good job of prominently displaying the recall information on the Toyota website, including a red callout in the lower left corner of the company’s homepage.

In addition, the company has effectively used social networking sites such as its Twitter account and Facebook page to help disseminate information about the recall and the gas pedal concerns.

Click on Image to Enlarge

Click on Image to Enlarge

Overall, the company is doing a good job of getting information out to consumers potentially impacted by the recall; however, at this time, they’re doing little in terms of actually accepting responsibility.

Finally, this entire situation is eerily reminiscent of Audi’s “sudden acceleration” problem back in the 1980s. It’ll will be interesting to compare the two companies’ comments regarding these issue to analyze what lessons Toyota may have learned (or failed to learn) from Audi as the situation continues to develop.

  1. Emil –
    I agree in your analysis of Toyota’s rhetorical approach towards corrective action, and of course, you know far more than I about apologia.

    They do mention the name of their pedal supplier, CTS, and I wonder how that plays into the assumption of responsibility. In effect, they’re saying that they don’t actually make the pedals (though the pedals are incorporated into their products). Where, I wonder, does the ethical standard lie in accepting responsibility when multiple manufacturers are involved? The company that produces the final product, the parent as it were, or the company which produces the defective (if that’s the correct term) part?

    Always interested in what you have to say, man.


    • Thanks for the comments, Pete. You’ve hit on something I’ve been thinking about. A number of Toyota’s comments give back-handed compliments to CTS for working to improve the problem. I say back-handed because many of those statements essentially deflect the responsibility onto CTS (and away from Toyota).

      All this brings up a tough question about ethical responsibility when another company is at least in part responsible for the problem. In this case, I think Toyota bears a good portion of the responsibility, even though CTS manufactured the actual product. I say this because there have been concerns in the past and Audi had high-profile problems with gas pedals accelerating suddenly back in the 1980s.

      So my personal opinion on this is that with problems in the past, Toyota probably should have scrutinized/tested the product they received a little more thoroughly. That doesn’t remove CTS from any responsibility. But, ultimately, Toyota installed the pedals in their vehicles and sent them out into the public.

      All that said, I do think Toyota is doing a number of things right and ethically to address the situation now. That wasn’t necessarily the case leading up to this point. But they seem to be stepping up now.

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