Donna Laporte was so troubled by Toyota’s five-month-long parts shortage at dealerships across Canada that she decided against buying a RAV4.
“Absolutely, that’s the reason,” she said of her decision to purchase a competitor’s vehicle during her car-buying search in Windsor, Ont., in October. The blame falls to a “planned systems transformation” at Toyota Canada, which slowed the flow of replacement parts needed for repairs. The company declined to provide details of the nature of overhaul, but said in mid-October the process, which began in June, is nearly complete.
In the meantime, dealership staff has been thrust into various forms of damage control as irate customers play the waiting game to get their vehicles serviced.
Tina Smith, a Prince George, B.C., resident who drives a 2017 Toyota Tacoma, said she wasn’t impressed with the way Toyota handled the situation, providing customers with little information.
“Finally got truck brakes fixed on Oct. 17. Nothing to help me with the delay. Charged me about $1,300. Parts took over seven weeks to get. No reimbursement, no apology,” she wrote in a Facebook Messenger exchange with Automotive News Canada.
Susan Gubasta, CEO of Mississauga Toyota, said the automaker worked hard to resolve the parts problem, but the situation has been “challenging.”
Customers are frustrated, and her sales staff is bearing the brunt, Gubasta said. Parts delays also had an impact on the new-car sales process, she said.
“Let’s say I’m coming in to buy a Corolla. And there’s certain accessories I want. It’s delay, delay, delay. It sours the positive purchase experience,” she said. “It didn’t impede the sale. But it made it less seamless.
“But, at the end of the day, the transformation needed to happen, and we’ve had to work together to make the best of a challenging situation, and we’re coming through the other side,” Gubasta said.
Parts deliveries were “nearly” back to normal, Toyota Canada said in an email Nov. 1.
“The number of customers still impacted by delays is now in the single digits,” Toyota spokesman David Shum wrote. While the automaker said it had added more shifts at its warehouses in an effort to speed things up, it would not elaborate on what exactly caused the parts delay.
It did, however, “sincerely apologize” to its customers for the “unusual delays” and urge them to contact its customer-service line for help.
COMMUNICATION CALLED INTO QUESTION
Toyota Canada could have done a better job of communicating what was happening, said Mark Gregory, managing partner of Locomotion Communications and Public Relations Ltd., in Burlington, Ont.
“They didn’t respond quickly or clearly. There’s a lot of things customers need to know: What’s the problem? When is it going to be fixed? And what are they doing to fix it?” Gregory told Automotive News Canada. “It’s too bad because Toyota has a good reputation for quality in Canada.”
Judging by media coverage of the situation, he said, “it would appear customers are getting mixed messages. Toyota needs to look at what messages are going to their suppliers, and dealers, to ensure they’re consistent and clear.
“You want to try and avoid technical terms and industry jargon because people don’t really relate to that. They don’t understand it,” said Gregory, who advises companies on crisis management.
“The most important thing they could do is communicate more clearly and more frequently. If there’s a problem, step up to the plate and make it right. Maybe it’s some form of compensation or a benefit.”
Toyota declined to respond to Gregory’s comments.
But Chuck Seguin, president of Seguin Advisory Services, said he did not think the parts shortage will inflict long-term damage on Toyota’s brand.
Large system overhauls of this type often go awry, said Seguin, whose firm offers consulting services to dealers and automakers. But once they’re resolved, customers quickly forget about them, he said.
“These ERP [enterprise resource planning] installations, about one in five are disasters,” Seguin said.
“Toyota’s got a great reputation. It got great brand value. I don’t think this is going to tarnish them,” Seguin said “The bigger question is, what’s the impact on dealers? How are they being supported by Toyota?”
But Mississauga Toyota’s Gubasta said the automaker’s efforts were tireless.
“They brought people up from the U.S. They had people working 24/7, an they just couldn’t get ahead of it. It isn’t for lack of trying.”
Toyota also helped dealers provide customers with replacement vehicles where necessary, Gubasta said.
“We have to keep people on the road.”
Gubasta said she doesn’t expect the hitch to have a lasting impact on the brand.
“Six months from now, it will be forgotten. The manufacturer didn’t do anything to endanger people. It’s not about a safety recall,” she said.
David Friesen, general manager of Mayfield Toyota in Edmonton, said the parts problem “has been a challenge for sure.”
“But at the end of the day, we work together and try to get ourselves through it somehow,” he said. “We’ve tried to resolve everybody’ problems. Mayfield is the largest parts seller in the Toyota Canada network. We have lots of ver good relationships. We’ve got a strong reputation.
“In general, I have to say we’ve weathered it fairly well.”