Revisiting Toyota, Ethics and Compliance

Toyota Logo

After many people slapped Toyota with the unethical label over its unintended acceleration problem, it appears that Toyota may be vindicated.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting some early results form the U.S. Department of Transportation’s analysis of data recorders. They found that throttles were wide open and brakes not engaged on Toyotas involved in accidents blamed on sudden acceleration.

Back in March, I pointed out that we saw the same situation with Audi back in the late 1980s. People claimed that the car suddenly accelerated when they applied the brakes. It turns out they were stepping on the gas pedal, not the brake pedal.

It’s hard to pin blame on your customers for failing to use the product correctly. Audi was never able to deal with the same issue. Steve Jobs failed to find much support in telling people they are holding the new iPhone 4 incorrectly.

Toyota has experienced quality issues since they began their quest to become the biggest car company, instead of staying with being the best car company. By looking at the sticky accelerators and stuck floor mats Toyota was cognizant that their cars had flaws. Those flaws seem to have distracted them from realizing that the fault may not have been not their own.

I continue to think that the Toyota saga is one of a failure of crisis management, and not one of ethics or compliance.  Toyota has also benefited from BP’s bigger crisis. BP’s failure seems to be one both of quality, ethics, compliance, ineffectual leadership, and crisis management.

I’m also still troubled by the conflict of interest the US government has with Toyota.  General Motors is one of Toyota’s  biggest competitors. The US government own almost 61% of General Motors after having invested about $50 billion to keep the company alive. It would be good for General Motors if Toyota was found at fault and lost market share as a result. Therefore, it would be good for the US government for Toyota to be found at fault.

I don’t mean to imply that the Department of Transportation is being biased in its investigation. There is just an inherent conflict in the marketplace when the government starts owning private enterprises.