Tiger played golf and kept the focus on the links. Toyota hit another bump with another quality problem.
The crises for Tiger Woods and the Toyota brands are far from over. Both icons have slightly improved reputations in the past couple of weeks. But the path to return to a stellar reputation is never a straight shot and is only as successful as those involved keep their focus and commitment to improvement.
Tiger Woods is right now the easier story. He showed up at the Masters tournament. He did actually answer questions. Before the tournament he took a pretty strong broadside from a Masters official who decided he needed to lecture Tiger on his indiscretions. (Keep in mind this ethical discourse came from a club member that has had its own issues with not admitting people of color or women). Tiger played pretty good golf (very good for almost anyone else and actually pretty good for even his standards). More important for his reputation, the stories were mostly about his golf game, not his personal problems. By finishing among the leaders, he had a pretty good payday. And he didn’t add any more ammunition to his detractors. Yet one tournament does not mean he will not stray down the path of bad behavior. I believe it will take several tournaments – whether he wins or not – to see if he is keeping his word and whether sponsors come back.
Toyota has been slowly coming restoring its business, but probably taking one step back for every 1.5 steps forward. Last week, the US Government announced it would seek the largest possible fine from the company related to its safety and reporting violations. And this week, the company decided to stop selling its Lexus GX 460 SUV because of a Consumer Reports article that pinned a “Don’t Buy” status on the vehicle due to a handling problem that road tests show increases the chances of a vehicle rollover.
On the plus side, Toyota sales have skyrocketed due to very, very aggressive pricing to regain market share. Toyota loyalists and bargain hunters and voting with their pocketbooks and suggesting that their new vehicles won’t have safety or quality problems – or if so, the company will fix them right away.
Toyota has also stepped up advertising to demonstrate commitment to fixing the problems. And it is within its rights to challenge any and every claim that it believes can’t be substantiated as a vehicle problem.
The Toyota issues have settled into a longer running crisis – somewhere between a simmer and a boil. It’s not daily news, but two to three times a week. Expect attorney-fed stories in the press. Some will contain new facts, others will be efforts to recruit plaintiffs. Regulators who believe there were serious safety problems that might have been neglected or covered up, will continue their inquests. And the media will continue to probe for the “who knew what when…”
See the Wall St. Journal effort to get at the feud between Toyota family leaders and non-family executives WSJ.
It will be quite a while before either Tiger or Toyota will be able to let out the cathartic sigh of relief.