The Toyota Recall Crisis

Business Challenge


At the end of 2009, Toyota was a clear and differentiated leader in the auto industry. Yet, within months, it had to recall over 8 million vehicles worldwide to address issues of “unintended acceleration,” suspend production of some of its most popular models, testify before Congress, and face the national limelight. Analysts estimated that costs from its recall crisis would top $5 billion and sales slid by 16 percent.



Toyota turned to BSG for help navigating its recall crisis, which struck at the heart of its brand identity as the leader in safety and reliability. Led by its crisis and issue management team, BSG immediately conducted a brand risk assessment and messaging study to develop a recovery plan.

Specifically, BSG:

  • Conducted an issue awareness and impact study, followed by tri-weekly tracking polls.

  • Rigorously tested messages and communications among key audiences.

  • Developed a communications blueprint to help Toyota leverage its strongest attributes while also identifying new messaging opportunities.

  • Developed and co-implemented a Brand Reputation Rebuilding Strategy that drew upon BSG’s multi-phased research program that uncovered the underlying drivers of opinion across a series of key stakeholders.

  • Assessed consumers’ attitudes and found that stakeholders felt a sense of “betrayal.” It was Toyota—the company, not the vehicles—that suffered the greatest erosion.

  • Discovered through research that regaining trust was going to take time and effort, but with the right message and actions, trust could be rebuilt.



  • Since the recall, Toyota has regained its position as the world’s best-selling car manufacturer, becoming the first to sell 10 million vehicles within a 12-month period.

  • Based on our strategic insights, Toyota continued leveraging quality, durability, and reliability to help drive corporate reputation; addressed safety in a forward-looking way; and added a “humanistic” dimension to consumers’ image of auto companies.

  • BSG continues to serve as a top strategic partner for Toyota and is instrumental in corporate reputation 
    rebuilding efforts and communication strategies.

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