Kel Kelly

Hey, thanks for swinging by my blog.

Whether it's topical news, internet happenings, social media, public relations, marketing, start-ups, mobile shiz or whatever, I promise to wade through the bullshit and give you my unbuffered perspective.

You'll note I never take on a "corporate tone" — whether I'm chatting you up at a party or speaking to the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company, my voice never changes. I say what's on my mind and I'm often the champion of the underdog.

I'm a social media junkie and smoke Google Analytics in a crack pipe to get my day going. I hope my immersed insight and offbeat view make you laugh. More importantly, I hope you take a second and share your thoughts by posting a comment. If you have any ideas on how to make my blog better, shoot an email to [email protected].

Peace out.

Toyota Needs To Accelerate

March 3, 2010 10:28 AM

In 2006, then 29-year-old Kuoa Fong Lee was driving his pregnant wife and their extended family home after attending Sunday services at his church. According to his account, he said he pumped the brakes on his car as he exited the highway, but they failed. As a result, he went barreling through a red light at an intersection and hit two other cars. A 33-year-old man and his 10-year-old son who were in one of the cars were killed instantly. In addition, a 6-year-old girl was left paraplegic and later died from her injuries. Prosecutors argued that Lee purposely had his foot on the gas, accelerating as he approached the intersection — essentially eluding that the act was an intended suicide mission. The prosecution prevailed and Lee is now serving eight years in prison for vehicular homicide.

In 2006 this story would have been interesting, but certainly would not have raised a lot of eyebrows. Oh, did I forget to mention, Lee was driving a 1996 Toyota Camry? A meaningless point in 2006, but a game-changing point in 2010. Lee has maintained his innocence throughout his ordeal. He was recently quoted from prison as saying, “I am so sad. To the victims’ family and everybody else, this was not something I intended to happen. I tried to avoid this situation to the best of my abilities.” At the trial, relatives of the victim begged the judge to give Lee the maximum sentence. In light of today’s Toyota debacle, these same relatives now support Lee and are working with a lawyer to help get him exonerated.

While I respect the way Toyota has handled its recall crisis since the story broke, I am disheartened at the thought of how long they knew about the issues and did nothing. Toyota executives testified before Congress last week and disclosed that the sudden acceleration problems were more extensive than they originally thought. They also apologized for underestimating the issue. Smells like an admission of guilt to me.

I think Toyota has an opportunity to go where no brand has ever gone before when responding to a product safety issue. Recall is the minimum ante and everyone does it, usually because of public pressure and liability issues. I passionately believe Toyota should take its army of resources — legal, financial, public relations, whatever — and ignite a proactive, all out assault to get Kuoa Fong Lee out of prison as soon as humanly possible. This time Toyota should accelerate and not put its foot on the brake until Lee is free. I’m sure legal experts will say that this would be an admission of guilt and put the company in a position of being financially liable to Lee. And I’m sure they’re right, but who gives a shit. They admitted (before Congress) that they knew about the problem and did nothing. There is a man behind bars because of Toyota’s actions. There is a wife at home without a husband and a toddler without a Dad. Never mind the three people who were killed as a result of this accident. This is about doing the right thing and doing it immediately. This is not about minimizing a company’s financial exposure. If Toyota is sincere about making amends with its customers, I can’t think of another Toyota owner — out of the millions of people who own a Toyota — whose name should be at the top of the list.

What do you think?

If you believe Kuoa Fong Lee deserves to be free, I ask that you tweet about this story and/or use whatever other social media platform you choose to help bring awareness to Lee’s situation.

Posted by Kel | in Uncategorized | 17 Comments »

17 Comments on “Toyota Needs To Accelerate”

  1. Amy Bernstein Says:

    Wow, Kelly. Thanks for bringing this story to light.I dont’ think I’d heard about it before (which I’m sure Toyota worked to make sure I didn’t)but I can’t believe this. It’s truly tragic in every sense of the word. I’m wondering how this trial went and what other “evidence” the jury found that he intentionally drove through the red light. Wouldn’t there have been some type of investigation of the brakes at that point, seeing as he claimed they didn’t work? I’m no legal expert,but I would think that’s how it went. In fact, I’m pretty sure that when a vehicle is in an accident, the insurance co. requires a thorough look-through of the vehicle. What was the outcome of this?

  2. Kel Says:

    amy, yes it appears there was some type of investigation. at the trial the prosecutors had an engineer testify the brakes were operating normally and they didn’t find any evidence of acceleration. interestingly, they did find that the throttle was set open at 15%. it appears this is highly unusual. the prosecutors rationalized that it must have been set open as a result of the crash not as the cause of the crash. toyota has claimed for years that there was no evidence of acceleration problems and ignored the complaints. i’m not surprised that the investigation in lee’s case didn’t conclude there was a problem. it’s par for the course in this story that has affected millions of cars. so sad, but it’s never to late to make amends. toyota needs to do the right thing and do it immediately. i also think the prosecution should do the right thing and open this up for a second review.

  3. Dexter Says:

    incredible – had no idea this happened. your idea of Toyota getting behind the release of this guy is great. I’m sure there are teams of lawyers that won’t let them do it – but it would be a revolution in PR. It would also send a strong message that someone – or a company has taken a stand for personal responsibility. Given the climate of how people feel about their govt and banks (can you say term limits!?), seeing a company stand up and take accountability for themselves – no matter the consequences – would go a long way! May even inspire more companies and people to follow suit. Hate this stuff from the Patches O’Houlihan school of accountability: “Dodge, Duck, Dip, Dive, and Dodge.”

  4. Kel Says:

    dexter, i think you are right. in a single move, toyota could raise the bar for corporate accountability. i also think it would knock the socks off its customers and really drive home the point that “we are here for you.” nothing will erase the damage that has been done to toyota’s brand. however, an act like this could certainly overshadow it. bring it!

  5. Michael Witwicki Says:

    Another great post Kel!

  6. Kel Says:

    thanks michael. this has been a bad week for toyota. between the guy whose car accelerated to 90 mph on the highway and the elderly woman on the cape whose gas pedal got stuck and she drove through a building, toyota needs to bring some goodwill to their brand. they should start by getting this guy out of prison. bueller….anyone…

  7. Ginny Pitcher Says:

    The question is whether Toyota has truly learned its lesson. I think they treated a lot of their customers and responsibilities the same way that Tiger Woods treated his mistresses — with reckless abandon and no consideration. They have waltzed through this world with a certain sense of entitlement, just like Tiger, and as a result they have made grave errors. The right thing for them to do is apologize to Kuoa Fong Lee and work tirelessly to get him released. I’m not sure we’ll ever see this day, but maybe if we get loud enough they will.

  8. Jean Butler Nickerson Says:

    Wow, great post! What a sad story.

  9. Meagan Ellis Says:

    As a Toyota driver, this makes me very afraid – what a sad story!!

  10. Ben Carcio Says:

    Kel, Awesome idea, but unrealistic given legal issues and a lack of balls. I hope Lee does get the proper justice. But, it will be interesting to watch the Toyota brand recover. Quality is their key attribute (sound familiar?), so what happens to a brand that loses its key attribute. Without it Toyota is just a bland but functional car manufacturer. Are their any other examples of major brands losing their key attribute?

  11. Meagan Ellis Says:

    Do you think this will make it possible for me to run red lights and get away with it now?

  12. Kel Says:

    amen sista’ ginny! great minds think alike.

  13. Kel Says:

    jean, sad is an understatement. i think “appalling” would be more appropriate.

  14. Kel Says:

    ben, chances are any brand that has fallen from grace either lost its key attribute or a competitor created a new attribute that trumped the previous one. segmentation usually forces the latter. that’s why there are thousands of kinds of toothpaste. one minute toothpaste & mouthwash in one was all the rage. the next minute its “plaque removal” then “whitening” then “fights gingivitis” then “enamel enhancing” then whatever. in terms of toyota, i would bet my life savings they will never be synonymous with quality again.

  15. Kel Says:

    meagan, something tells me you could talk your way out of any ticket!

  16. Hector Fonseca Says:

    The same thing happen to me, but no one got hurt. My insurance company said that since it was not the accelerator it, they cannot do anything. I want to contact the lawyer of Lee and help him out in this case. I have documentation where I send my car for repairs for the brakes and accelerator year ago and it was not fixed.

  17. Kel Says:

    hector, that would be great. his attorney’s name is bob hilliard. his email address is [email protected]. good luck!

Leave a Reply

Alternatively, use the form below.

« Back to text comment