Four people died when this Lexus ES350 accelerated out of controlAs marketplace ironies go, it's hard to top Toyota beating out General Motors as the world's leading automaker because it put quality and reliability before profits and the Japanese automaker now finding itself caught in the slings of adversity because it too put profits before quality and reliability.
How else to explain a cascade of recalls now approaching 8 million vehicles worldwide, most for unintended acceleration, and now the prospect of a recall of 2010 Prius hybrid models because of problems with the car’s anti-lock braking system?
It is precisely because Toyota made its nut building quality products, albeit frequently dull ones, that will make regaining its luster so difficult and provide an opening for two ascendant brands in particular -- Ford and Volkswagen -- to gobble up larger shares of the automotive market.
Worse yet, Toyota was forced to order the unintended acceleration recall by the U.S. Department of Transportation despite having received hundreds of complaints since 2003.
It also has handled the public-relations aspect clumsily, initially blaming drivers for allowing carpets with a faulty design to ride up under accelerator pedals and then an American manufacturer to whom it outsourced some of the pedal manufacturing, while the remarks of Toyota president Akio Toyoda at a hastily arranged press conference this morning did nothing to inspire confidence that the auto giant really understands the severity of its problems.
Meanwhile, Toyota sold 18,500 fewer vehicles in the U.S. in January than it did a year earlier, a stark contrast to other automakers that posted gains amid signs the industry was entering a slow but steady recovery. And its share price is down over 20 percent.
The recalls have prompted two congressional investigations into what the automaker knew when that are sure to keep its woes in the headlines long after the last accelerator pedal has been fixed.