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Toyota’s brake in transmission

April 23, 2014

Toyota acceleration/brake crisis

The background/overview of the crisis

In late 2009 and early 2010, Toyota one of the world’s leading automakers was forced to make a series of recalls. The recalls were due to accelerator and brake problems that were being reported by members of the public and the news media. Some drivers complained that their Toyota vehicles suddenly accelerated and they were unable to stop them even when they took their foot off the gas pedal. Other drivers reported that they put their foot on the brake pedal but this had no effect (Hays, 2011).

After numerous complaints from the public and the media, the US department of transportation became involved with the case. An investigation was launched in order to address the crisis. The investigation discovered that more than 2,000 drivers complained of sudden acceleration between 1999 and 2009 (Hays, 2011). Despite the complaints, Toyota failed to respond. The investigation allegedly linked the acceleration and brake problems to deaths as a result of car crashes. Some news media reported that the total number of deaths was 52. The New York Times reported that according to the traffic safety administration the unintended acceleration was linked to 89 deaths (The New York Times, 2011), while some like the Huffington post reported 32 deaths since the year 2000 (The Huffington Post, 2010).

After criticism from the US government, the media and publics, Toyota was forced to recall more than 8 million vehicles in addition to launching a series of investigations in order to discover the source of the problems. However by the time Toyota decided to respond, there was already extensive damage done to the brand. Lawsuits, settlements, penalties and a drop in the stock value of the company accompanied the damage (Hays, 2011).

Organization’s communication regarding the crisis

During the crisis, Toyota failed to give the media and the public any information regarding the crisis. Some of the news media accused Toyota of stonewalling. In addition to responding slowly to the problem, they failed to give the public and media accurate information about what caused the acceleration and brake problems as well as what was being done in order to protect people from the fault vehicles. According to an article by the Business insider Toyota confused everyone by jumping to conclusions and suggesting different causes in rapid succession (The Business Insider, 2012).

First, the problem was attributed to operator error, which is the most frequent cause of self-acceleration problems in automobiles. As the investigation continued Toyota suggested that the cause of the problem were the floor mats that trapped the gas pedal. Some engineers who worked for the automaker later attributed the problem to sticky gas pedals. This was followed by another unconfirmed suggestion that faulty electronics caused the unintended acceleration (The Business Insider, 2012). The amount of information that came from Toyota were numerous and unconfirmed. The communication with the media and public was faulty and this caused more damage than was intended.

Analysis of crisis response

Was Toyota’s response effective? In my opinion it was a very ineffective and poor crisis management/response.

The timing

Toyota should have begun their investigation of the problem as far back as 1999 when their customers began complaining. But rather than do so, they waited until the problem became a trending topic among news media. If they had responded to the claims made by their publics earlier, they would have been able to contain the problem before it caused damage to their brand. In addition to that, after the problem became a full blown crisis Toyota failed to utilize the “golden hour”, they were slow to release their response, instructing and adjusting information to the public and media and doing so enabled the media and public to speculate which led to more problems.

Lack of information

One of the poor things Toyota did was related to their release of information. Throughout the investigation, Toyota failed to give the public and media concrete and accurate information pertaining to the crisis. They changed their information more than once; rather have a definitive answer for the cause of the problem they kept speculating. The constant speculation and unconfirmed answers further affected their credibility. In the case of a crisis, it is important that the company does not speculate, in addition the company should ensure that they are speaking in one voice and are unified in their stance, which was not the case in Toyota.

Crisis response strategy

The crisis response strategy employed by Toyota was not a good match. At a point during the crisis, Toyota employed the scapegoating method. The blamed the drivers of their vehicles for the problem, they stated that the problem was caused by drivers who stepped on the wrong gear or did not step hard enough. They also used the victimage method in which they assumed the role of victims being attacked by the US government because they were a foreign company. Rather than employed the two methods above, Toyota should have simply issued an apology and made the recalls sooner than later, this would have been less damaging in my opinion.

Poor crisis plan

Overall, it is evident that Toyota either had a very poor crisis plan or no crisis plan at all. The crisis management team of Toyota was not well equipped to handle the problems that the crisis brought. They were slow in their timing, and inefficient in their actions. It is safe to say that they did not plan or anticipate the likelihood of this type of crisis happening to the company, hence when the crisis occurred, Toyota failed to act accordingly and this lead to brand damage, which is still under reconstruction.


J. Hays (July, 2011). Toyota’s sudden accelerator crisis in 2009 AND 2010: Floor mats, deaths and was Toyota unfairly accused? Retrieved from

Kalb, I. (2012, December 28). How Toyota’s crisis management failures added to the billion-dollar settlement. The Business Insider. Retrieved from

Thomas, K. (2010, February 15). Toyota Recall: 34 deaths alleged from gas pedal problem. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from

The New York Times. (2011, February 8). Toyota’s acceleration problems. Retrieved from


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