For most of his presentation, Steve St. Angelo stood stoicly behind the podium, stiffly reading the teleprompter with the expected explanation for Toyota’s difficult year, rarely making eye contact with the audience.
Then, the chief quality officer and executive vice president for the embattled Japanese automaker stepped out onto the platform at the Management Briefing Seminars, in Traverse City, and suddenly started speaking directly from the heart about the trials Toyota experienced earlier this year.
“Obviously, it has been a trying few months,” St. Angelo said, suddenly animated.
Few would dispute that considering the challenges that have landed on the back of a company that once seemed to do no wrong.
Since announcing its first recall for unintended acceleration, last October, Toyota has more than 9 million cars to the callback list for a wide range of problems, everything from sticky accelerators to excess corrosion and leaky fuel tanks. It has paid a record, $16.4 million fine to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for failing to reveal defects in a timely manner. Its leaders have been caustically grilled by Congress. Its products have plunged on the quality charts. And it is facing potential criminal charges from two grand juries.