Having taken its lumps in the media and before Congress, having apologized repeatedly and "voluntarily" recalled millions of vehicles, and after putting in place changes to refocus on quality and safety, Toyota has had enough. The automaker has paid more than a fair penance, by its own calculations, and is ready to move on.
"We had to take responsibility for what happened and apologize," Don Esmond, senior vice president for automotive operations of Toyota Motor Sales USA, told the Detrit News. "There is a fine line between taking responsibility and getting on with business."
And now that Toyota has crossed that fine line, it believes it's time to let by-gones be by-gones. It's a little reminiscent of Todd Bertucci growing tired of media continuing to annoyingly bring up his violent mugging of another player that resulted in a horrific, life-threatening injury--three years after he apologized. So, Toyota, remember--if you really are sorry for the quality problems that have jeopardized the safety of your customers, you're still sorry even long after you've grown tired of the whole matter.
The company has also decided to fight back, and fight back hard, against allegations it sees as unfair. (Perhaps taking a page from Ford's playbook in the Firestone crisis, as detailed in Feeding Frenzy.) Toyota's new get-tough posture is a calculated gamble this early in the crisis--if the company pushes back vigorously against an allegation that turns out to have merit, it will face the wrath of Congress again and the public will have just about enough with recalcitrant Toyota.
But if the automaker picks its shots carefully, getting tough can be effective. Last week, just as Toyota pushed back against what it saw as a rigged demonstration, two run-away Toyota accidents grabbed national headlines and put the company backed on its heels. But the saga of James Sikes' speeding Prius, dramatically rescued by a California Highway Patrolman, may turn out to be the biggest hoax since the Balloonboy saga. Toyota pulled no punches today in questioning the charges, and certainly succeeding in turning the media scrutiny back on Sikes.
And I wouldn't be surprised if the second accident last week, when a 70-year-old woman's RAV4 seemingly propelled itself into a Massachusetts medical building, turns out to be a case of driver error (accidentally stepping on the gas instead of the brake pedal).
Most cases of crashes of allegedly possessed vehicles (of any make and model) are actually caused by driver error. Undoubtedly many of the Toyota accidents were caused by drivers' mistakes (and in rare cases, driver fraud). But there also clearly are problems with many Toyota vehicles that the company may or may not be well on the way to correcting. So Toyota should push back against unfounded allegations, while continuing to remain sincerely apologetic for the problems that really are of its own making.