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Toyota claims airbag letters sent before contact

Toyota has denied that it is waiting until customers contact it before sending out letters to inform them of the status of replacement of defective airbags, telling iTWire that claims made in an article published recently are incorrect.

In that article, I detailed how, after waiting until there were just 21 days left for a letter — in order to keep with Toyota's promise of providing replacement parts in the fourth quarter — I had then got a letter after contacting the company with a view to writing a story.

Aleks Krajcer, Toyota Australia's manager, public affairs, national marketing, said in an email on Thursday that the company had begun to contact owners of vehicles with defective airbags on 16 November and this had continued till 16 December.

When I initially wrote to Toyota on 10 December, I mentioned that I was also one of the people affected and was still waiting for a letter to know when a replacement airbag would be available.

Krajcer said on Thursday: "In your case I'd like to confirm that the letter was lodged at Australia Post on 8 December at 1:46pm in line with the commitment we made to you in our original communication (and before you contacted Toyota).

"In your article you claim you received a letter only because you contacted Toyota. This is untrue, as your letter was by this point already in the mail. It was one of around 100,000 letters sent for this recall campaign expansion."

When Krajcer — and another Toyota communications person, Steph Naylor — were contacted on 10 December, Krajcer replied the next day, but he only asked for the details of my vehicle. I provided that and also asked, "I called my local Toyota dealer this morning and he said the parts are available. So how come Toyota has not contacted me to inform me about it?"

Krajcer did not respond to this email; he did not call me either to tell me anything. When a letter arrived from Toyota the next day, assuming that Toyota had responded after being contacted was a reasonable conclusion.

During an earlier phone call with Krajcer on Thursday, he tried to offer an excuse for the delay in sending the letters — the initial one was sent in July and when a letter about the availability of spares is sent this late in December it is impossible to get an appointment with a Toyota dealer as most are busy and Christmas is nigh — by saying that the airbag problem was unprecedented in its magnitude.

But when I put it to him that if Toyota was prepared to sell to millions and benefit from the sales, then the company should also be prepared to handle a problem of this magnitude, he did not offer any response.

Toyota makes enough money through worldwide sales of its cars. In the quarter that ended on 30 September, the company reported profits of US$4.58 billion. Surely, some of that money could have been put towards engaging a couple of call centres to phone customers in Australia and not depending on snail mail? That is, if as Krajcer claims, "Toyota takes the safety of its customers very seriously". For any company to depend on snail mail for communications in 2017 is laughable.

During the phone call, Krajcer also asked me if I could understand how big a problem Toyota faced with the airbag recall and replacement. I responded that I did not care, and the company should not expect customers to do so either.

I also pointed out that problems like this generally arose because companies outsourced production of parts in order to save money, and asked why Toyota did not set up a factory to produce the airbags itself and maintain quality standards.

He did not offer a response to that either.

When I told Krajcer that the ACCC had taken the company to task and that I was not the only person complaining, he did not offer much of a reply, apart from hinting that even the ACCC was not fully aware of what was involved in tackling a problem of this magnitude.

During the call, Krajcer kept insisting that he was dealing with facts while I was not; when I said that two people could interpret a series of events in very different ways and have widely differing opinions, it did not seem to register with him.

Expecting customers to feel pain for Toyota for selling cars with defective airbags is a little much. Better communication by the company — which benefitted greatly from Australian taxpayer subsidies during its operations here — would have been better evidence of the claim that it cares for customers.

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.