COM 400.03 Ethical Case Study

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					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

                                Lauren Klingman

                              Pepperdine University
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
Running head: THE TOYOTA MOTOR CORPORATION’S 2010 RECALL                                      3

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
Running head: THE TOYOTA MOTOR CORPORATION’S 2010 RECALL                                    4

ethically justifiable for a company representative to be coached by PR professionals and

communications experts before addressing publics?

                                       Ethical Analysis

TARES Analysis-

        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.
Running head: THE TOYOTA MOTOR CORPORATION’S 2010 RECALL                                     5

       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.
Running head: THE TOYOTA MOTOR CORPORATION’S 2010 RECALL                               6

                                      Works Cited

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.

       Retrieved from

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

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