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Analysis: Toyota's Competitors Hope They Don't Face Same Fate

(AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)
Toyota's President Akio Toyoda is about to get U.S. government is conducting a criminal investigation, and has issued subpoenas asking Toyota and its subsidiaries to produce documents related to vehicle malfunctions.

Toyota documents from July 2009 show a company proud of saving money by limiting recalls and avoiding more intense scrutiny by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Office of Defects Investigation (ODI).

In other words, Toyota is in a whole lot of trouble, the kind of trouble that could potentially bring the Japanese company to its knees, which are already bowed.

The rush for global growth and profits, a secretive corporate culture and what appears to be a lax regulatory environment have all contributed to Toyota's cascading troubles.

But is Toyota that much different than other carmakers in its drive for growth, profits and avoidance of costly recalls?

It may be that Toyota will pay for the sins of its auto-manufacturing brethren, unless they experience the kind of perfect storm that has altered Toyota's public image from industry leader to the worldwide face of corporate of malfeasance if the forthcoming criminal investigation finds the company guilty.

As in many cases of corporate malfeasance, it's the cover-up and obfuscation -- such as delays in addressing serious problems reported by customers -- that sink management teams faster than the Titanic (the ship sank after hitting an iceberg in less than 3 hours).

Competitors are paying close attention, and praying that they can profit from Toyota's loss of face. But they are also looking deeply inside themselves, at their own recall policies and practices, and praying even more fiercely that they don't end up in the same sinking boat.

Daniel Farber is editor-in-chief of CBSNews.com.

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