英国《金融时报》 社评 2010-02-05

丰田公司(Toyota)最近几个月召回了数百万辆轿车和卡车,它们都可能存在一个令人不安的问题——油门踏板被卡,“加速失控”只是这个问题的委婉说法。不幸的是,这个词正好也描述了丰田自身的发展轨迹。这家汽车制造商的飞速增长,致使其制造工艺及与客户的沟通都出现了瑕疵。

过去10年,丰田产能增长过半,达到年产1000万辆,超越通用汽车(General Motors)成为全球第一大汽车制造商。有人说这正是其毁灭的缘由。为了精简生产过程,丰田在许多车型上使用更多标准化部件,任凭其大肆吹嘘的质量不断下滑。

在一些市场,丰田最近召回汽车的速度比生产速度还要快。去年11月以来,丰田确认北美地区有600万辆汽车的油门踏板可能会被卡住,比去年在该地区销售汽车总量的3倍还要多。在欧洲将召回最多180万辆汽车。在丰田暂停销售受影响车型之际,竞争对手一拥而上,争抢丰田的客户:通用、福特(Ford)和现代(Hyundai)都对置换丰田汽车提供1000美元的折价。

召回在汽车行业是常有的事儿。对投资者来说,真正造成伤害的是,丰田未能阻止召回事件演变为一场公关灾难。问题初现端倪时,公司最高层未能及时出现在公开场合,安抚消费者的焦虑情绪。这可能不是日本的做事风格,但对于一家全球性企业而言这不是借口。

此外,丰田的问题是一场逐步展开的事故,对此公司本应有所准备:早在2005年,丰田就在美国召回了200多万辆汽车。目前这种新问题层出不穷的局面——对普锐斯(Prius)刹车系统的调查已经展开——以及对更多问题可能浮现的猜测,使人们怀疑丰田对于自身的缺陷不够坦诚布公。

公众或许会谅解无心之失,但不会谅解他们眼中的自满情绪或安全上的无能(无论是否情有可原)。事情本不一定会走到这一步。如今丰田有可能永远失去其高品质的声誉,证明了公司管理不力。

在这一切发生之际,丰田昨日居然上调了利润预期,真是令人难以置信。丰田表示,召回事件造成的1800万亿日元估计损失和销售停滞,不会阻止公司今年恢复盈利。日语中可能找不到与chutzpah(过度自信又厚颜无耻)完全对应的词,但是在daitan(だいたん,大胆)和atsukamashii(厚かましい,厚颜无耻)这两个词之间,投资者们想必会希望后者的成份更少一些。

WARNING TO TOYOTA: SPEED CAN KILL
Editorial 2010-02-05

“Uncontrolled acceleration” is a euphemism for the disturbing problem – jammed accelerator pedals – at risk of afflicting millions of Toyota cars and trucks that the company has recalled in recent months. By unhappy coincidence it also describes the trajectory of Toyota itself. The carmaker’s breakneck growth has allowed defects to come into both its manufacturing and its communication with customers.

In the past decade Toyota has raised capacity by half to 10m units a year, overtaking General Motors as the world’s largest carmaker. Some say this has been its downfall. Toyota let its much-vaunted quality slip by using more standardised parts across many models to make production leaner.

In some markets, the company has recently had to recall cars faster than it produces them. Since November, it has identified 6m vehicles in North America whose accelerator pedals can jam, more than three times the number it sold there last year. Up to 1.8m are to be recalled in Europe. As Toyota halts further sales of affected models, rivals are swooping in to snatch its customers: GM, Ford, and Hyundai have offered $1,000 rebates for traded-in Toyotas.

A recall is a routine occurrence in the industry. What is damaging for investors is that Toyota failed to prevent it from turning into a public relations disaster. Top executives were slow to appear in public to assuage customers’ fears at the first sign of trouble. This may not be the Japanese way, but that is no excuse for a global company.

What is more, Toyota’s problems have been a slowly unfolding accident for which it should have prepared: it recalled more than 2m US cars as early as 2005. The current steady stream of new problems – a probe has been launched into the Prius’ braking system – and speculation that more is to come fuel suspicions that Toyota is insufficiently forthcoming about defects.

The public may forgive an honest mistake, but not what it sees – justifiably or not – as complacency or incompetence on safety. It need not have come to this. That Toyota now risks losing its reputation for quality for good is proof of inadequate management.

In the midst of all this, Toyota incredibly raised its profit forecast yesterday. It said an estimated Y180bn loss on the recall and sales stop would not prevent a return to the black this year. There may be no exact Japanese word for chutzpah; but between daitan (boldness) and atsukamashii (shamelessness) investors must surely prefer rather less of the latter.

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