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Toyota must man up and grow up

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Toyota must man up and grow up

Automotive News -- February 8, 2010 - 12:01 am ET

Toyota's initial response to mushrooming concerns about the safety of its vehicles has been appalling.

It is unconscionable that a company as powerful as Toyota -- an enterprise that every year sells millions of vehicles in hundreds of global markets, that boasts of its quality, touts its product safety and advertises how much it cares about everything from its customers to the environment -- could have failed to acknowledge the seriousness of the safety crises and admit the company's failures.

Missing has been any sign of corporate leadership or real contrition. People have died because of Toyota product failures. Anybody who reads newspapers or watches TV knows there have been crashes and fiery deaths. Yet Toyota officials merely apologize for the "inconvenience" and "concern" suffered by consumers.

Part of the problem is cultural and a sign of corporate immaturity. Though Toyota has grown into the world's largest automaker, it still acts like a small company that for years has tried to sidestep inconvenient publicity.

Another issue could be the syndrome in which a phalanx of lawyers and damage-control publicists tries to help a company in crisis deflect responsibility and liability.

Noticeably absent has been President Akio Toyoda, grandson of the company's founder. When he became president last year, Toyoda talked about leading Toyota Motor Corp. back to its roots. But when he was cornered by a TV crew in Davos, Switzerland, his response was to apologize for making customers "uneasy." This is a critical moment for Toyota and Toyoda, who must address the issues rather than let the world think he is hiding in the shadows while subordinates suffer public humiliation and scorn.

The time for posturing is over. With Congress and other government agencies investigating Toyota, it will be tougher to take control of the crisis. It's time for Toyota to admit that it waited too long to address the problems and that it is finally serious about making things right.

Letting events unfold on their own will become death by a thousand cuts; every bit of bad news will deepen the wound. Great companies need thick skin. It is better to take the hit and move on. If Toyota wants to be the world's biggest and best automaker, it's time to start acting like it.

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