Toyota is in a huge amount of trouble with the government for its cover-up of safety issues. But based on a dozen recent conversations with friends and family members, Toyota appears to be rapidly losing credibility with the public just as quickly. That will not be helped when, according to the Wall Street Journal, Toyota plans to attack an ex-employee that was handing over documents to the government and claim he had mental problems.
One friend, an engineer who has owned Toyotas since they were first sold in the United States, said he would never purchase another because of the company's behavior. He cited Toyota's refusal to share black box data that's recorded in each car during an accident, saying, "As an engineer, they must think they have something to hide."
Public opinion among my friends is going from "Toyota makes the best cars and these problems happen with all makes" to "What is Toyota afraid of?" My wife, who loves her one-year old Toyota Highlander Hybrid, surprised me and reversed her opinion about buying one again, and now says she probably would not buy a Toyota if she had to do it all over again.
One marketing professor friend thought Toyota's performance will make it the subject of one of the biggest business school cases of all time, about how Toyota fell so far so fast. He says he's never seen such inept crises management and "Everything they do seems to makes matters worse." He thinks once owners start losing their lives in cars that have been recalled and repaired, NHTSA may actually ban some models from being sold.
All of my anecdotal experience indicates Toyota is rapidly losing the confidence of the public, and its president's testimony before Congress did nothing to slow that down.
Follow Philip G. Baker on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pbaker