At least top US Toyota executive James Lentz was not expected to perform seppuku in front of a Congressional hearing on safety issues yesterday. He might have felt tempted though. Although corporations rarely receive sympathy when confronted by flesh and blood victims, spare a thought for a company indicted in the court of public opinion, which faces dozens of private lawsuits, an investigation by securities regulators and, most ominously, a criminal investigation.
Toyota has pledged to fix mechanical problems but continues to insist its electronic throttles are not defective, and there is still no evidence it is wrong. It has now engaged independent testers to satisfy critics. Audi, which faced a similar issue in 1986 took the same track, but it was vindicated too late to avert commercial damage.
Toyota's initially ham-fisted public relations response is largely to blame for its situation. It was late in mounting a vigorous response from the very top and chief executive Akio Toyoda's testimony today is only an exercise in damage limitation. Toyota estimates the cost of recall of 8m vehicles so far at $2bn but the impact of reputational damage and lost sales is likely far higher. The $28bn drop in Toyota's market value in the past month is a good approximation.
History may be repeating itself. Audi's woes were magnified by a 1986 report by US TV network CBS featuring a woman who accidentally killed her six-year-old son. Footage of a spontaneously accelerating Audi was staged and the woman's admission of error in a police report ignored. A report by ABC on Toyota has gained wide attention but also appears questionable. Audi's ultimate vindication was small consolation after an 80 per cent sales drop – something that must terrify Toyota chiefs snivelling before Congress.
至少，没人期待在美国国会昨日就安全问题举行的听证会上， 丰田汽车(Toyota)美国总裁詹姆斯•兰兹(James Lentz)会切腹自杀。不过他可能有过这种冲动。尽管在面对血淋淋的受害者时，企业很少会博得同情，但替一家受到公众舆论指责的公司想一想吧——它面临 数十起私人诉讼和证券监管机构的调查，最不幸的是还面临一宗刑事调查。
丰 田陷入目前的局面，主要责任在于公司最初愚笨的公关反应。最高管理层迟迟未能做出有力回应，首席执行官丰田章男(Akio Toyoda)今日的作证只是一种减少损害的行为。丰田估计，召回800万辆汽车迄今的成本是20亿美元，但名誉受损和销售损失带来的影响可能要高得多。 看看过去一个月丰田280亿美元的市值损失吧。
历史可能会重演。1986年，美国哥伦比亚广播公司(CBS)有关一位妇女意外令6岁儿子丧 生的报道，加剧了奥迪的困境。哥伦比亚广播公司播放了奥迪汽车自发加速的镜头，却忽略了警方报告中那名妇女承认操作失误的部分。美国广播公司(ABC)对 丰田的报道引起广泛关注，但看起来也很可疑。奥迪最终的清白证明只是一个小小的安慰，此前，该公司的销售已经下滑了80%——这必定会让在美国国会面前啜 泣的丰田高管惊慌不已。