Michael Hamlin on how Toyoda handled Toyota recal
(CNN) — Perhaps the highlight of the head of Toyota’s trip to Washington happened not on Capitol Hill, but when speaking before U.S. Toyota dealers at the National Press Club after giving hours of testimony before U.S. legislators.
“At the hearing, I was not alone — you and your colleagues, around America, across the world, were there with me,” said Akio Toyoda, breaking into tears as the dealers applauded Wednesday.
It was a human moment that reflected the considerable weight placed upon the typically taciturn scion of the Toyota family, and perhaps even his relief — and the collective relief of Japanese corporations, politicians and public — that Toyoda came out of the experience burnishing the image of his tarnished company.
“Under the circumstances, he did very well indeed,” said Dave Bartlett, the Washington-based senior vice president of Levick Strategic Communications. “He did suffer from the language barrier, which made it tougher for him to express the emotion that would have probably amplified his message in a way he would have liked.”
“My impression was that he did better than expected and that the politicians, for the most part, were surprisingly gentle,” added Michael Alan Hamlin, president of Team Asia, which provides communications advice to multinational companies.
Toyada was more circumspect about his performance. He admitted to CNN’s Larry King that the day had been difficult, “and I am not confident to what degree our sincerity was conveyed.”
Kyung Lah, CNN’s Tokyo correspondent, noted “this is a different Akio Toyoda we’re seeing today. He’s appearing more earnest, trying to portray a sincere attitude — a humble appearance for a company head.
“This is a different attitude than we saw in Japan,” added Lah, who covered Toyoda’s three Tokyo press conferences in the weeks leading up to his appearance before U.S. Congress.
In Japan, television reports noted that Toyoda was answering carefully and choosing his words cautiously because the “U.S. is a lawsuit-oriented culture.” Cultural differences were also remarked upon when the hearing chairman asked Toyoda, “Is that a yes or no?”
“Japanese often answers questions circuitously before getting to the answer … the (television) station pointing out that this is a culture gulf,” Lah noted.
Wall Street applauded Toyoda’s performance — Toyota stock ended the day in New York trading up 4 percent.
Much is riding on Toyota’s recall mop-up. The company saw its sales drop 16 percent last month in the U.S., its biggest market. Consultancy “Brand Finance” — which annually ranks the world’s top 500 brands by monetary value — recently ranked Toyota as the 9th most valuable brand in the world. But the consultancy said if the company fails to resolve the sudden acceleration problem consumers could turn on Toyota and risks losing more than 25 percent of its brand value.
So far in their handling of the global recall, “they appeared to be the gang that couldn’t shoot straight — was it the mats? Was it the pedal? Was it the computer?” Bartlett said. “They have to tighten that up and get it behind them.”
“They have to do two things they haven’t done up to now: (show) transparency and competence,” Barlett added.
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