Tough times for automakers have turned the industry upside down. Household names like Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Saturn and Hummer have gone the way of the dodo. Saab narrowly avoided a similar fate with a last-minute purchase by Dutch super car manufacturer Spyker, a niche player that has intriguing plans for the quirky Swedish brand. Fiat and Chrysler became strange bedfellows. And Toyota is struggling through an historic, crippling recall. But one of the more interesting outcomes of the recent upheaval within the auto industry is Ford Motor Company's sale of Volvo to China's Geely.
Google has created a crisis map for Hurricane Sandy, which includes information on the storm's current location, its predicted path and the locations of emergency shelters.
Call it the year of the recall. The massive recall of 550 million eggs is the biggest of its kind to hit the nation -- yet it's just one of dozens of major recalls consumers have seen in 2010. In the span of last week alone, companies like Tyson, Garmin and Johnson & Johnson pulled all manner of consumer products, including GPS devices, contact-lens solution, hip replacements, flat-screen TV wall mounts, popsicles, deli meat, baby bottle warmers and yet more Toyota cars. It's unclear whether there's actually been a dramatic spike in 2010 in the number of recalls (a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission spokeswoman last week it doesn't track that information) or whether it's merely that the recall announcements are being faster and more broadly publicized thanks to social-media channels.
Just when Toyota’s record-level incentive program had begun getting many buyers to forget about its massive safety recalls during the first quarter, there's fresh concern about a safety problem in a Lexus model—a danger so grave that it prompted Consumer Reports magazine to issue a rare warning against buying the vehicle at all. On Tuesday, Toyota stopped worldwide sales of its 2010 Lexus GX 460 sport-utility vehicle, the brand’s largest SUV, after the consumer watchdog warned that the 460 had demonstrated a dangerous handling tendency in tests, one that could lead to rollovers and possibly cause “serious injury or death.”
The message was written in January by Irving A. Miller, then a group vice president for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., to another Toyota staff member. Three days later, the carmaker, bowing to pressure from Congress, federal regulators and consumers, issued a recall on sticking pedals affecting millions of vehicles. The cry for action by Mr. Miller, disclosed in documents made public for the first time last week, came at the end of an extraordinary four-month period for the Japanese automaker. In that time, federal regulators say, there had been deliberate efforts by company officials to keep information about possible defects from the government.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the U.S. plans to seek a $16.4 million fine against Toyota Motor Corp., saying the auto maker "knowingly hid" safety problems from regulators. The proposed fine, the maximum allowed under law against a car maker and far exceeding the previous record of $1 million, is the first linked to Toyota's recall of more than eight million cars globally for gas-pedal and sudden-acceleration problems.
Starbucks Corp. and some other chain stores in the U.S. are finding themselves caught in the middle of a firearms debate, as gun-control advocates go up against a burgeoning campaign by gun owners to carry holstered pistols in public places. The "open carry" movement, in which gun owners carry unconcealed handguns as they go about their everyday business, is loosely organized around the country but has been gaining traction in recent months. Gun-control advocates have been pushing to quash the movement, including by petitioning the Starbucks coffee chain to ban guns on its premises.
Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda vowed Wednesday to tighten quality control management by personally leading a new global quality-control task force. But he said he doesn't plan to visit the U.S. to appear at congressional hearings scheduled for Feb. 24 in Washington on the company's safety record. In his third news conference in less than two weeks, Mr. Toyoda emphasized the progress made in fixing the braking systems of hybrid cars that have been recalled in Japan.
With Americans tightening their belts, BMW AG is parking "the ultimate driving machine" in the garage, at least for a while. The auto maker for years has promoted the power and performance of its cars using that slogan, one of the longest-running and most well-known in the auto industry. But now the company is switching gears. On Friday, it was launching an advertising campaign that focuses on the joy the company says comes from owning its vehicles and suggests BMWs are safe for mothers and children. One print ad uses the tagline "Joy is Maternal"—a departure from past promotions that touted horsepower, handling and acceleration.
Toyota’s recalls and disclosures in recent months are part of a lengthy pattern in which the automaker has often reacted slowly to safety concerns, in some instances making design changes without telling customers about problems with vehicles already on the road, an examination of its record shows.
Toyota Motor on Monday said it would begin fixing accelerator pedals in millions of recalled vehicles this week, with some dealerships staying open around the clock to speed the process. The company said its engineers have developed and “rigorously tested” a remedy that involves reinforcing the pedal to eliminate excess friction. It said it had an “effective and simple” solution for current owners; dealers will install a steel reinforcement bar into the pedal assembly to reduce the surface tension that could cause it to stick.
Toyota is a company that has built its entire franchise on quality and reliability, and today, it faces being discredited at its very core. The carmaker's corporate-communications department has, so far anyway, attempted to make the recall of 2.3 million vehicles sound like a typical single-vehicle recall. But it wasn't -- not by a long shot. You don't have to look any further than the Audi brand between 1978 and 1982 to see how faulty acceleration can put a severe break on sales and trust. Audi had one model affected; Toyota has eight.
As Toyota’s problems mounted in North America with the announcement of a halt to sales and manufacturing of the bulk of its cars, commentators in Japan fretted Wednesday that the automaker’s problems could seriously hurt the reputation of the rest of Japan’s manufacturing sector. “Toyota’s reputation for safety is in tatters, and it is inevitable that its image among consumers will suffer,” the Sankei Shimbun daily said.
As carefully crafted brand images go, it's hard to beat Toyota's. Over a generation or so, Toyota (TM) built its reputation — and U.S. market share — on dependability, at a time when General Motors, Ford Motor and Chrysler couldn't shake being identified with lemons. The Japanese automaker initially built its lineup around fuel-efficient cars, while Detroit was focused on gas-guzzling SUVs. Mostly non-union Toyota opened U.S. plants and promised no layoffs for permanent workers. Detroit, meanwhile, laid off employees by the thousands and shuttered dozens of UAW-represented plants. But Detroit's nemesis lately has suffered through its own run of bad press, much of it involving a consumer hot-button: vehicle safety.
The Allstate Foundation is teaming up with Scientific Social Solutions to launch "Crash! The Science of Collisions" program in New York State. The educational program teaches driver safety to high-school students using physics, physical science, biology, and math to reconstruct actual motor vehicle accidents.
Ford Motor Co.'s "Drive One" campaign has helped the brand's perception when it comes to rational reasons for buying, such as safety and durability. But it was lacking on the emotional side, which the automaker is focusing on in a second round of marketing. This next phase, which is heavy on TV ads but also uses out-of-home (targeted, interestingly, at Beltway opinion leaders), social media, newspapers and an innovative promotion offering a donation to local schools in exchange for a Ford test drive, breaks Oct. 10.
Consumers are back in banking. After many months of marketing messages that tout safety and stability precipitated by last fall's financial meltdown, banks both big and small are refocusing their marketing on solutions and services targeted specifically at the wants and needs of more fiscally conservative consumers.
Volvo is promoting the Twitter feed for the 2010 Volvo XC60 crossover vehicle through the biggest ad placement YouTube has run to date.
Small firms and those that use natural materials say the costs of testing toys for lead and other harmful substances may put them out of business.
Security should have been better, but advertising also helped kill a temporary worker at Wal-Mart, according to a lawsuit filed by the estate and relatives of the 34-year-old man trampled by a pre-dawn Black Friday crowd at a Valley Stream, N.Y., store.