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Toyota's global corporate disaster

Toyota Australia's Dave Buttner is used to success when it comes to the Toyota brand he represents.

As the front man for the Hybrid Camry launch in Melbourne the company's local sales and marketing chief was in the firing line as the subject switched to Toyota's troubles on the global front, with an eight-million car recall over unsafe accelerator pedals and a second safety crisis for the Prius.

Buttner is a smart man and, as the top Aussie at Brand T, he has more than 20 years experience of life in the Toyota way. But, like almost every executive up to Akio 'I apologise for boring cars' Toyoda in the president's chair in Japan, he has no experience of a crisis like this one.

Toyota is not supposed to have recalls. Nothing sub-standard is supposed to pass the factory gate. No-one is prepared for this scale of a global corporate disaster.  And that's what it is.

Toyota has traded for decades on its reputation for quality and reliability. Ask anyone who owns a Corolla about the car's bulletproof, run forever qualities and the strength of its resale value.  The Camry is boring, but it is also as honest and reliable as the fridge in the kitchen.

So, as Toyota Australia is winding up for a big swing with the Hybrid Camry it is also having to bat-down the criticism and questions from all directions. Carsguide readers are already emailing me to ask if it is still alright to buy a Toyota. 

To his credit, Buttner is blunt and honest as he fields questions from the motoring media pack. He has been prepared for the attack, and he stays 'on message' throughout the onslaught, but for a bloke who smiles a lot and is as upbeat as anyone in the car business it looks tough.

"I couldn't stand before you and pretend for a moment that the global situation ... will not have some impact on the brand. Or some other areas of the business," Buttner admits.  "We have to instil confidence . . . in our customers."

He works through the Hybrid Camry presentation with talk of prices and fuel economy and emissions, managing more than a few swipes at the Holden Commodore and diesel-powered European alternatives to the Camry.  But he cannot avoid the talk of recalls and damage to the reputation of the world's biggest carmaker.

"We can send out myriad press releases and spruik from the lecturn. At the end of the day, it's the customer's experience of the product," Buttner says.  "We will do whatever we have to do to maintain the faith of our customers."

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