Toyota’s PR makes me ashamed of my profession

Toyota’s PR makes me ashamed of my profession

Toyota announced a recall of more than 3.8 million vehicles last week and today announced it was halting production on eight models.  Ah, responsible Toyota, right? Think again. This is a great example of how a powerful public relations teams, with the weight of advertising dollars behind them, are able to smother news that the public really needs to know. Toyota’s PR department has been pumping out misinformation on this issue for months now and it makes me ashamed of my profession. In December, the Los Angeles Times reported that Toyota had been covering up these problems way back to 2003.

The issue is that the accelerator on these models can stick. Here’s a bit of background on this stuck accelerator…the problem has been apparent to Toyota since 2007, according to USA Today and other publications. Toyota issued a statement yesterday that said the problem had not resulted in any deaths. Yet tell that to the family of highway patrolman Mark Saylor, killed with his family last August after his accelerator stuck on his loaner Lexus. That story was all over the news, as were four other incidents resulting in deaths. Even yet, in November of 2009 Toyota issued statements that blamed the problem on bad floor mats.

But we really aren’t hearing about that too much until this week when national TV news picked it up- could it be because network news relies so heavily (or did) on car manufacturing advertising? It’s not a stretch. Back in 1993 a Dateline producer rigged a Pinto to explode for a segment. Well, that’s been happening for a long time according to Walter Olson and the National Review. It’s part of the ‘magic of TV’. But with the Pinto, unfortunately GM decided to pull its weight with NBC. The producer was exposed and fired for something the rest of his colleagues had done for years.

I’ve only had to lie like this once for a client.  I felt like crap and I’ll never do it again. Somebody needs to blow the whistle over at Toyota and it should be one of us flacks that does it. I realize that it’s the corporation’s responsibility to be honest, but in this case the messenger should bear a great deal of the blame as well. And that’s usually the public relations department.

Comments? Do you think Toyota covered this up?