Toyota's recall programme seems to have escalated into a full-scale turf war between the Far East and the US. This is the only conclusion many automobile industry marketers can come to since, if one looks at historical precedent, this entire issue should have blown over weeks ago.
Instead, it is hotting up and, while evidence of a nasty turf war is still circumstantial, it is nonetheless glaringly indicative of a massive attempt by the US motor industry to add competitor bashing to its marketing strategy.
The facts seem to point to the US auto industry digging up as much dirt as it can on imports from the Far East, on top of making as much mileage as possible out of the Toyota recall.
For starters, anyone who has been involved in any form of political lobbying would realise that the US Congress wouldn't, off its own bat, just demand that the Toyota chief present himself before them. It would far more likely have been as a result of considerable lobbying by the US auto industry.
Detailed statistics, of accidents and deaths caused by defective Toyota parts in the US, smacks of someone doing an awful lot of homework to track down owners and survivors and getting them to tell their stories to the media. Who else but the US auto industry? So much so that other Japanese manufacturers, such as Honda, have had hurried recall programmes.
What is working very much in favour of the US anti-import lobby is the fact that, in Japan, the auto industry is structured in a way where centralised manufacturing of auto components means that roughly 40% of all components are shared by Japanese vehicle brands. Non safety-related components such as aircon systems and window winders, as well as many safety-related braking system and suspension components.
So, there is always a 40% chance that when a component failure, on a Toyota vehicle for example, would spark a recall, that this would then involve other Japanese brands as well.
It is an Achilles heel that the US motor industry will continue to exploit.
For motor industry marketers, this next year or so is going to be fascinating. I reckon that we're going to see the gloves coming off in terms of the US automakers' determination to survive by increasing market share against dominant Far Eastern brands. It is, I suspect, going to get very dirty because when run of the mill marketing can't be trusted to improve brand loyalty and sales quickly enough, the dirty trick brigade is sent to the front line.
There is a sign on the wall of the White House press office in Washington to help new political journalists understand where to start. It reads "Follow the Money."
Using this logic in terms of the Toyota recall saga, the money trail ends up in the heart of the ailing US auto industry and a desperate need for sales.
Apart from being a corporate marketing analyst, advisor and media commentator, Chris Moerdyk is a former chairman of Bizcommunity. He was head of strategic planning and public affairs for BMW South Africa and spent 16 years in the creative and client service departments of ad agencies, ending up as resident director of Lindsay Smithers-FCB in KwaZulu-Natal. Email Chris on and follow him on Twitter at @chrismoerdyk.
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