Running head: THE TOYOTA MOTOR CORPORATION’S 2010 RECALL 1
The Toyota Motor Corporation‟s 2010 Recall
An Ethical Analysis of the Communication Strategies Utilized Amongst Consumers
Running head: THE TOYOTA MOTOR CORPORATION’S 2010 RECALL 2
Every year the San Francisco-based public relations firm, Fineman PR, compiles
a list of the “Top 10 PR Blunders” amongst American companies. The list is created in
order to remind business and organizations alike how important good public relations is
to a company‟s success, especially in the face of crisis. In 2010, for its 16th annual
release, Fineman PR named the recall of approximately 5.3 vehicles by Toyota Motor
Corporation as the second worst public relations disaster of that year, only surpassed by
British Petroleum‟s oil spill crisis in the Gulf of Mexico. Toyota‟s crisis, which was
caused by manufacturing defects that created “unintended acceleration” in its most
popular vehicles, resulted in over 100 deaths and is said to be the “biggest product recall
since the Firestone tire fiasco of 2000” according to an entry on PR Newswire entitled
British Petroleum, Toyota, and National Public Radio top 2010 PR blunders (2010).
Although manufacturing problems were the initial cause of Toyota‟s 2010
automotive crisis, it is the ethical dilemmas that the company has faced that have brought
Toyota into a full-blown disaster. For the purposes of constructing a thorough ethical
analysis, this paper will focus on the actions of Toyota Motor Corporation‟s CEO, Akio
Toyoda, and his serious of public apologies relating to the 2010 Toyota recall
Explanation/ Problem Statement
Within the 2010 Toyota Motor Corp. recall crisis, CEO Akio Toyoda made
several public apologies to Toyota‟s publics and consumers. First, on October 3, 2009
Toyoda made his first public apology to the Japan National Press Club after a serious of
fatal car crashes occurred as a result of manufacturing malfunctions in several models of
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Toyota‟s most popular vehicles. According to an article entitled President of Toyota
apologizes, authors Tabuchi and Maynard (2009) assert that in his address, Toyoda
focused his speech on his utmost remorse. Despite this, Toyoda failed to verbally accept
blame for the auto malfunctioning that was occurring at the time.
In February 2010, Toyoda spoke to the public two additional times. During these
addresses, which were five months after Toyota‟s initial recall, Toyoda finally admitted
to blame and accepted responsibility for the unintended acceleration in Toyota‟s vehicles.
Despite this fact, Toyoda‟s apology was not well received by the press. According to
Cowan (2010), Toyoda‟s apology was not created to be understood across intercultural
audiences, and as a result, many consumers did not believe in his sincerity. Specifically,
Toyoda “failed to offer the long, deep bow said to signify true contrition in Japanese
culture” (pg. 14).
According to an entry on PRSA, Inoue (2010) asserts that in-house public
relations and communications teams were coaching Toyoda before he made his public
apologies in February 2010. Specifically, Toyoda was most likely being coached on
public relations strategies of image restoration. Because of his three public apologies, it
can be concluded that Toyoda chose to demonstrate the image repair tactic of
mortification, which “the accused simply may admit responsibility for the wrongful act
and request forgiveness” (Dardis & Haigh, 2009, pg. 105).
Given this explanation, the following two questions must arise in relation to the
ethical behavior of Toyota and its representatives: first, did Akio Toyoda and the Toyoda
Motor Corporation act ethically in their communication with their publics? Second, is it
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ethically justifiable for a company representative to be coached by PR professionals and
communications experts before addressing publics?
The best way to analyze the ethical justification of the first aforementioned
question, in this given situation, is through a TARES analysis, which focuses on a
speaker or advertisements‟ truthfulness, authenticity / sincerity, respect, equity, and social
responsibility to determine ethicality.
Here, Toyoda‟s truthfulness is in question because he did not show consistency
amongst his three speeches. In his first public address in October 2009, Toyoda refused to
accept blame for Toyota‟s vehicle recalls, but he changed his answer five months later
when he accepted full responsibility during both of his February 2010 addresses.
Toyoda‟s authenticity and sincerity can also called into question. In this case,
Toyoda‟s actions were sincere, specifically when referring to his October 2009 speech in
which he apologized to families who had los loved ones as a result of fatal car crashes
associated with the 2010 recall.
When conducting a TARES analysis, it is also necessary to look at a speakers
respect. In this case, Toyoda showed little respect because he did not act appropriately
according to cultural norms Specifically, Toyoda did not demonstrate the Japanese bow
of contrition and this inevitably implied that Toyoda, nor his company, was willing to
take responsibility for the crisis at hand.
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It is also important to look at equity, which analyzes whether or not everyone who
hears a message is able to interpret it. Here, everyone who heard Toyota‟s message
understood it, as it was in common vernacular language.
Lastly, within a TARES analysis, one must analyze social responsibility. In this
case, Toyoda did not demonstrate social responsibility because her refused to accept
initial blame for 100‟s of fatal car crashes that resulted from his company.
Given this TARES analysis, it is easily determined that Toyoda and Toyota did
not act ethically in their communication with the company‟s publics.
Aristotle’s Virtue Ethics-
The best way to analyze the second question is by looking at Aristotle‟s virtue
ethics. According to Aristotle‟s virtue ethics, the character of a moral agent is the best
way to judge any given person‟s behavior when considering ethics, as apposed to
considering a set of deontological rules. In question two, therefore, Toyoda‟s actions can
be analyzed as ethical behavior because Toyoda himself is a man of good character.
To conclude, Toyota‟s use of communication through CEO Akio Toyoda can be
deemed ethical and unethical, dependent upon the ethical theory the company‟s serious of
actions are compared with. For example, according to the TARES model of ethical
communication, Akio Toyoda was not practicing ethical communication when addressing
the Toyota Motor Corporation‟s publics. However, when comparing Toyoda‟s
communication with Aristotle‟s virtue ethics, his communication practices are ethical
because Toyoda himself is a moral being.
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Cownan, J. (2010). Toyota has hard time with „sorry.‟ Canadian Business, 83 (2), 14.
Dardis, F., & Haigh, M.M. (2009). Prescribing versus describing: Testing image
restoration strategies in a crisis situation. Corporate Communications: An
International Journal, 14( 1), 101-118.
Inoue, T. (2010, May 24) A culture of apologies: Communicating crisis in Japan.
Tabuchi, H. & Maynard, M. (2009, October 3). President of Toyota apologizes.
The New York Times.
(2010, December 13) British Petroleum, Toyota, and National Public Radio top 2010 PR
blunders. Retrieved from