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.

  • Lisa Merriam

    It’s funny, the greed that led Toyota wrong will take them back. Losing site of the customer works in the very short term, but is HUGELY costly in the end. Toyota will realize that it pays off to serve their customers, and yes, you are right, they are surely getting that religion!

    November 3, 2011 at 8:23 pm
  • Robin Cerrati

    Great article- thank you for your insight!

    November 3, 2011 at 8:24 pm
  • Jake Jacobs


    Nice piece…..I have a Prius and haven’t worried at all about my acceleration.

    I do think Toyota has taken a big hit and I have not been impressed at all with their response.

    Yesterday’s LA Times had an article on a new minivan of theirs, right next to another recall notice on another vehicle.

    I did a lot of work with Ford early in my career. They had 3x the number of recalls as other automakers. Two views of that: 1) They made a lot of mistakes; 2) They found a lot of mistakes so they could correct them soon after launch.

    Interested in driving a Ford?

    November 3, 2011 at 8:25 pm
  • Michelle Reina

    Larry, thanks for providing a valuable perspective. Yes, Toyota sure has lost their way. And, I am with you, they can recover – IF – they chose to return to their core value of customer first and pay attention to the pain their very own people are experiencing. I have consulted to Toyota – employees there have a great of pride in what that brand stands for. I know many are feeling betrayed by ‘what’ has happened, how their leaders are responding and wonder – ‘is this the company I thought it was?’ Finding the courage to work through that internal pain and let down is critical in finding a way to return to a focus on the customer with integrity.
    I believe they can return to a place of great strength if they find the courage to do the work it is going to take to heal and renew. I remain loyal to Toyota – I love my Lexus SUV and loved the Camry I drove for 13 years prior to it. The thing would not die. I just got tired of it. I don’t want to get tired of Toyota and believe there are a bunch of people out there who don’t want to either.

    November 3, 2011 at 8:26 pm
  • Liz Guthridge

    Great newsletter article and blog post, Larry! Your three Cs of customers, character and control are brilliant. I’ve shared your newsletter with several clients of mine who are quickly growing and need to pay more attention to internal disciplines and processes. They hate the “d” and “p” words so maybe they’ll accept control linked to customers and character.

    November 3, 2011 at 8:27 pm

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