SHANGHAI -- Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda is still learning public relations skills after the breakout of massive recalls of various Toyota models. He scored relatively low with American media for his U.S. Congressional hearing last week.
But he is working hard and his appearance on Tuesday night in Beijing has proved him to be a fast learner.
As a matter of fact, Toyoda didn't say much new in Beijing. He repeated what he said in the U.S. on things like the root causes of his companies woes and what he would do to fix them.
The only thing new in his speech was that in spite of its ongoing crisis, Toyota is sticking to its initial target of selling 800,000 cars in China this year, up from 709,000 in 2009.
It was Toyoda's behavior that made him welcome in Beijing. A huge volume of reports came out shortly after the press conference and most of them were favorable.
Chinese media like him for a number of reasons.
First, they like Toyoda for the high priority he has placed on the Chinese market by choosing China as the second stop on his damage control mission.
Toyoda flew directly to Beijing from Los Angeles, even though China is only Toyota's fourth largest market worldwide, after the USA, Europe and Japan.
His trip to China to calm concerns in the market here about Toyota quality was very timely. With its otherwise nearly impeccable reputation damaged by a rash of recalls, Toyota has dropped out of the list of the top 10 best selling car brands in China so far this year, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.
They also like him for the sincerity of the apology he delivered to a room crowded with journalists. He bowed deeply about four times during the hour-long press conference.
In addition, Toyoda was more experienced and skillful in dealing with media at the Beijing press conference than he was in the U.S.
He endeared himself with local journalists by invoking his previous working experience as Toyota's China head. He was in good command of himself and was quick in answering the questions raised by the journalists.
"He showed no trace of nervousness and was more patient in answering questions (than at the American Congressional hearing)," one Chinese newspaper, International Finance News, commented.
To be sure, with fresh reports propping up about defective Toyota cars, Toyoda still faces tremendous challenges and must continue acting to limit damage to his company's brand image.
But seven months into Toyota's top job, Mr. Toyoda is quickly gaining in the experience, confidence and vision needed to lead the world's No. 1 auto manufacturer. That bodes well for the now heavily battered Japanese brand.