TOKYO -- After a week of silence, the boss of the world's No. 1 automaker appeared in public Friday to apologize over massive car recalls, but it may not help stall Toyota's escalating public relations crisis.
Akio Toyoda, 53, the car maker's president and chief executive officer, held his first news conference since the company's Jan. 21 announcement of a recall for faulty gas pedals affecting 4.5 million vehicles. At a briefing Friday night at the company's Nagoya headquarters, he was grilled by reporters wanting to know why he finally came forward.
"I wanted to tell customers directly through the media that they are the first priority," he said after apologizing, but defending his decision to rely on deputies thus far to speak on Toyota's behalf. "Whether it's myself or my vice presidents, we as Toyota operate with one voice."
For some analysts, Toyoda's Friday night appearance came too late.
"He should have come out a week ago," said Masaaki Sato, an auto industry expert, during an appearance on a late-night news program after the news conference. "He should have been in the U.S. rather than Davos."
Sherman Abe, a business professor at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo, wonders why it took so long.
"Toyota seems to be a typical Japanese company, wanting to get all the facts before reacting," said Abe. "But when you have a crisis, you can't handle it successfully that way. The longer you wait, the more damage it does to your credibility."
Toyoda's formal appointment in June came with hopes he could restore Toyota's profits after a battering in the global economy.But he may have forgotten a critical lesson from business school.
"Presidents have to act on incomplete information and use judgment when they sense there is a crisis," said Abe. "They can't hold back. I just wonder whether large Japanese companies are structured to enable them to handle uncertainty of that magnitude."