Toyota, Hypocrisy and Green PR

Last Updated Oct 10, 2007 1:02 PM EDT

Toyota, Hypocricy and Green PRWe've written about how green initiatives at your company can be good for the long-term bottom line and, of course, how they aren't bad for PR either. Of course, sometimes they really are. Especially when you are caught talking out of both sides of your mouth, as Toyota was last week. The result was a cascade of negative, high profile op-eds.

First off, what did Toyota do? Laura Dowd writing today on the Huffington Post explains:

Toyota has gotten a lot of mileage out of portraying itself as the greenest, most fuel-efficient car company on the planet, and has reaped the benefits both financially and pubic relations wise. Yet they are careening toward becoming the most hypocritical car company on the planet by aggressively opposing desperately needed higher U.S. fuel economy standards. Toyota should be worried that their green bubble will burst.
Who else took note of Toyota's hypocrisy? The NY Times' columnist Thomas Friedman did this weekend in a wittily titled op-ed, "Et tu, Toyota?" In the piece he accuses Detroit of committing collective suicide, and Toyota of aiding and abetting the act:
Assisting Detroit's suicide seems to be contagious. Everyone wants to get in on it, including Toyota. Toyota, which pioneered the industry-leading, 50-miles-per-gallon Prius hybrid, has joined with the Big Three U.S. automakers in lobbying against the tougher mileage standards in the Senate version of the draft energy bill.
Now why would Toyota, which has used the Prius to brand itself as the greenest car company, pull such a stunt? Is it because Toyota wants to slow down innovation in Detroit on more energy efficient vehicles, which Toyota already dominates, while also keeping mileage room to build giant pickup trucks, like the Toyota Tundra, at the gas-guzzler end of the U.S. market?
Hmm, could be. But whatever benefit Toyota might be getting out of helping the Big 3 hang themselves, is surely counter balanced by the amount of brand loyalty they're likely to lose. As Friedman concludes:
Sad. If Toyota were to take the lead on this front, it could enhance its own reputation and spur the whole U.S. auto industry to become more globally competitive. Hey, Toyota, if you are going to become the biggest U.S. automaker, could you at least bring to America your best practices -- the ones that made you the world leader -- instead of prolonging our worst practices? We have enough people helping us commit suicide.
(Image of Toyota Prius by joelgarcia, CC 2.0)
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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.