Toyota's Green Goodwill Will Save Its Reputation

04/07/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The world's media engines are in high gear as they go after Toyota for the current spate of accelerator and braking issues. That's to be expected when you are now the world's leading maker of automobiles with an almost mythic reputation for quality. You become a target.

However, I don't think Toyota is in as much trouble as the press would have us believe. The prospect of owning a vehicle that can't be controlled is a frightening prospect, but these problems have only affected a tiny minority of customers. Most Toyota owners haven't had these problems and continue to express confidence in the company.

This confidence that Toyota will get it right in the end is due, in large part, to goodwill -- and Toyota enjoys two types of enduring goodwill.

The first is their commitment to quality and to the customer's ownership experience. No automaker delivers on this better than Toyota. I saw it in action as a consultant to their dealership education program about five years ago. Toyota had a fantastic reputation for quality even then, but the customer experience often fell apart in the independently-owned dealerships when folks went in to buy a car. They sometimes got the same sleazy treatment you get at any dealership. Toyota made a huge effort to eliminate that unpleasantness and replace it with one of respect and transparency. It was so successful that it resulted in a trend that was subsequently adopted by many competitors. The dealership purchase experience isn't perfect, but it is now much more in line with Toyota's overall reputation for quality and customer service.

Another source of goodwill wells from their pioneering efforts in fuel-economy and alternative fuel technology - the Prius being a particularly visible example. In my book, The Gort Cloud, I talk about how 'green goodwill' can help companies bounce back from the inevitable potholes in the road to growth. Factoring the future of the planet into their calculations of future profits has paid off for Toyota in immeasurable ways.

Toyota and its partners have a lot of work to do to repair cars and a reputation, but their consistent investment in goodwill will make that job easier. I have no doubt that all this will pass, and Toyota will be a better company for it.