Toyota’s brand perception damaged by recall

Perception of Toyota’s brand has plummeted in the wake of the latest product recall affecting 7.4 million vehicles worldwide – the biggest seen in the automotive sector for 16 years.

An image from the new ad for the 2013 Toyota Corolla in New Zealand

The recall, concerning a possible fire risk from faulty electric window switches, affects 1.39 million cars in Europe including the RAV4, Yaris, Auris and Corolla models.

According to YouGov’s BrandIndex, the brand’s Buzz score, which is a net average of positive and negative things consumers have heard about the brand, has slumped to -12.6 yesterday (15 October), down 22 points from the +10.2 the brand enjoyed on 1 October. The drop leaves it currently bottom in a chart of 32 car brands tracked by YouGov, down from sixth just a week before.

Toyota’s reputation score fell to 24.2 from 29.6, while its overall Index score, which takes into account scores for reputation, quality and impression, dropped to 17.5 from 21.7 at the start of the month reaching a low of 14.2.

YouGov’s social media monitoring index SoMa registered a sharp spike in negative comments about the brand on Twitter on the day the recall was announced.
Almost 60 percent of comments heard about the brand on Twitter on the 10 October were negative, while only 8 per cent were positive. A fifth (20 per cent) of UK Twitter users heard comments about Toyota on the day, but the spike dropped off and returned almost to normal levels in the days following.

The brand has yet to launch any major reassurance communications. A spokesman for the brand said last week that it was looking into the necessary communications and is “gauging feedback” from stakeholders.

Francis Ingham, director general of the PRCA says Toyota should have launched a campaign to apologise and reassure customers, particularly as this is the latest in a line of recalls to affect the brand in recent years.

He says: “Every large-scale product recall is a crisis communications situation. When a company has two such recalls in very a short period of time, the importance of getting their response right is all the greater.

“It’s too late for Toyota to correct manufacturing errors, but what they can do is to admit they got things wrong, and launch a comprehensive “sorry” campaign to regain their customers’ trust – and do it fast.”

While Toyota has experienced a significant drop in brand scores, the fall is not as dramatic as the drop it registered in 2010 following a global recall over break safety fears. At the time its Buzz rating fell to -62.7 and its overall Index rated slumped to -3.6. The company’s CEO Akio Toyoda later fronted YouTube videos apologising and it later launched a global campaign starring its employees in a bid to rebuild trust in the brand.

Toyota sales were hit by the 2010 recalls and Toyota has also struggled in the face of supply issues after the Japanese Tsunami last year. Performance has rebounded this year with sales increasing 34 per cent globally in the first half of the year, overtaking General Motors and Volkswagen and regaining the position as the world’s largest car manufacturer.

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