Toyota's Reputation and 'Doing the Right Thing'

Toyota’s reputation continues to be tarnished as information comes out that company executives had avoided telling the truth and admitting to accelerator problems. The Associated Press reported that executives debated about when they should tell the public that there were safety issues.

Toyota executives argued with each other over whether to inform the public of the safety issues: “…we should not mention about the mechanical failures of acc. pedal…” Katsuhiko Koganei, executive coordinator for corporate communications at Toyota Motor Sales USA, had written to Mike Michels, vice president of external communications, as well as other Toyota officials.

Irv Miller, at the time the vice president for environment and public affairs, warned in an e-mail not to hide this from the customers, and that, “We need to come clean.”

Irv Miller is no longer with Toyota. His retirement was announced by Toyota on Dec. 16 and his retirement was effective Feb. 1. His email comments with his colleagues, mentioned above, were made January 16, 2010. Federal regulators claimed that they had no meeting with Toyota executives in January over discussion related to a recall of Toyota vehicles for issues with sticky accelerators. It’s interesting to see on the Toyota website, in their USA Newsroom section, Miller stating in response to an article in the Los Angeles Times of December 23, 2009, “Toyota has a well-earned reputation for integrity and we will vigorously defend it.” This longtime Toyota loyalist was desperately trying to get his longtime employer to face a problem that would badly damage the brand from the United States and Europe to China and the Japanese homeland.

As of April 8, 2010, the Transportation Department has assessed a $16.4 million fine on Toyota for failing to alert the U.S. government to the safety problems about the sticking accelerator pedals quickly enough. This fine is the highest ever levied by the Transportation Department for a vehicle defect, and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has said that Toyota made a “huge mistake” by not disclosing the safety problems sooner.

“We now have proof that Toyota failed to live up to its legal obligations. Worse yet, they knowingly hid a dangerous defect for months from U.S. officials and did not take action to protect millions of drivers and their families.”
— U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood

Not too long ago, Toyota’s corporate reputation was one of the finest in the world. According to a 2008 Harris Interactive poll, Toyota was 10th in corporate reputation, directly between two great companies: 3M and Berkshire Hathaway. But that reputation may be gone now. Not as much for the recall itself, but for the cover-up and obfuscation. The Secretary of Transportation is saying that one of the world’s largest carmakers knew that several of their products had a life-threatening safety defect — putting millions of customers at risk — and chose to hide that information. And they chose to hide that information in an attempt to keep their reputation for “quality” untarnished.

Irving Miller bio

irv-millerIrving A. Miller is group vice president of corporate communications Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), U.S.A., Inc. TMS is the marketing, sales, distribution and customer service arm of Toyota in America.

Miller is responsible for all TMS public relations activities in the United States, including Toyota, Lexus and Scion product news, media relations and publications. Miller also oversees TMS corporate contributions, video communications and the Toyota USA archives.

After beginning his career with Toyota in 1980, Miller served as merchandising manager in the San Francisco Region. Since then, he has held several regional management positions, including field operations manager of the Denver Region, assistant general manager of the Cincinnati Region and general manager of the Kansas City Region. Miller also served as market representation manager for Toyota and Lexus division, corporate manager of advertising-merchandising for the Toyota Division, vice president, field operations, Customer Services and vice president of sales for Lexus.

Recently, Miller was vice president of the Office of the Web, a group of top marketing and technology professionals organized to unify Toyota’s electronic commerce programs. Prior to joining Toyota, Miller worked for Chrysler Corp. and American Motors Corp.

Active in community affairs, Miller is a director and president of the Los Angeles Urban League Automotive Training Center, a joint venture of Toyota and the Urban League launched in 1993. He also serves on the Board of Directors for the Los Angeles Urban League, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, the Boys and Girls Club of Long Beach, Operation Hope, the Toyota Foundation and the Long Beach Symphony Association. In addition, he chairs the Corporate Development Committee for the Symphony and is a member of the A.W. Page Society, an organization of public relations professionals.

Miller attended Susquehanna University, Selinsgrove, Pa., where he earned a bachelor’s degree in finance, and Nova University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where he earned an MBA.

He resides in Palos Verdes Estates, Calif., with his wife Karen. They have two daughters, Heather and Alyssa.