Toyota has taken the unprecedented step of shutting down production of eight of their automobile manufacturing lines until they can figure out what is causing the unintended acceleration of their vehicles. This “automatic acceleration option” is similar to the problem Audi faced with their 5000 model in the 1980s. Audi’s approach to the problem did not result in a factory shut-down, just a decimation of its sales in the United States for many years.
The similarities to how the two companies reacted initially is striking:
- Audi and Toyota both blamed the problem initially on the driver (to mitigate liability?)
- Audi and Toyota both blamed the problem on floor mats
From there the stories diverge. Audi had 107 reported complaints to the National Highway Safety Administration by early 1982. They did not fix the problem until 1986, all the time stating it was not a real problem. Toyota, on the other hand, has reacted swiftly to the problem, even though reports are that they do not know what the cause is or how to fix it … yet.
Will Toyota suffer the way Audi did? I don’t think so. They will take a hit to prestige and bottom line, but their reputation is likely to stay in tact and people are unlikely to stay away from the brand once the problem is solved. Two lessons they are following: Do what Tylenol did when they had their poisoning scare many years ago, and don’t do what Audi did.