Toyota’s plan to win customers back


In the last little while, much of the talk about Toyota’s poorly built vehicles that have a tendency to accelerate unexpectedly and put people in danger have gone away. Toyota must be very happy that their nightmare is over. Although the nightmare might be over, at least the media onslaught they went through, the hard work of regaining the customers trust is just beginning.

They knew that they had a major effort ahead of them from the obvious manufacturing and quality control of the company but also from a marketing stand point. They did the right thing by waiting until the storm settled and let some time pass for people to begin to forget about the whole mess. Now it is time to rebuild their brand. To that end, they recently launched a safety ad campaign. They are re-introducing themselves as the safety automobile choice for customers and are promoting what they call the Toyota Star Safety System.

The Star Safety System includes five features that Toyota says will be standard on all Toyota vehicles. The features include: ABS brakes, Traction Control, Stability Control, Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and brake assist. Notice how all these features have something to do with stopping the car, which was the problem with their cars that made headlines to begin with. None of these are new or innovative, but Toyota says that they will be the first car maker to have all five features on every car they produce.

Being the safety champion in the auto industry is no easy task because it is among the most targeted positions among the car makers. Currently, the brands that are the market leaders in terms of safety are Volvo and Mercedes. Both brands are higher priced than Toyota so there might be a spot they can fill on the lower end of the pricing chart. However, it will take a lot more than just having some common features as a standard on all models. Things such as crash tests and new and innovative features must be part of the mix for any company to even be considered as a safety choice in the customer’s mind.

Another important note about Toyota’s strategy is that they are only addressing the one main problem that caused the PR nightmare, however, it does not address the greater quality control problem that their vehicles have had over the past 6-8 years. These problems have not seen much media attention because they likely won’t kill anyone, but they will cause owners to go to the dealership to fix various problems. In terms of safety, Toyotas have always been built with simple designs and never felt like they were the safest cars to be in when in an accident. Domestic car makers have consistently felt safer and stronger from a physical collision point of view, even when the crash tests were not necessarily the best. These attributes play a role when a customer is looking for a “safe” car.

Toyota may be able to re-invent themselves as the safe brand for people in the low to mid price range, but it will take time and especially, a lot more effort and work than just standardizing five common features that many other cars have already.