Beset by bad publicity over faulty gas pedals in eight car models and tempermental brakes in the crown jewel 2010 model Prius, Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota Motor Corp., announced Monday that he was recalling the name of the company.
"Effective immediately, Toyota Motor Corp. will be referred to as TMW," Toyoda said. "We regret that the Toyota name has become sullied and with this step we hope to assure customers that TMW will maintain the proud tradition of superlative workmanship and superior value. In good news for our valued customers, the name change will not require a visit to the dealership or cost them any money."
The name recall comes on the heels of a far more costly recall of 4.2 million vehicles, with an additional 300,000 Priuses likely to be recalled.
According to one worker at a Huntsville, Alabama plant, saying or writing "Toyota" is now verboten, with offenders required to write "I will never forget to say TMW" 100 times in English and Japanese script.
The name change is not without precedence. After suffering a crash in the Florida Everglades in 1996, low cost carrier ValuJet merged with AirTran Airways the following year and took on its name as well.
Aeroflot, the official airline of the Soviet Union, considered changing its name due to its poor safety record in the early 1990's, considering "Glasnost" and "Peterstroika" in hopes of attracting additional foreign passengers. But ultimately, it decided such a name change would be confusing to its domestic users, according to a former Aeroflot executive. "Our users were used to long lines, ration coupons and rancid oil," said the executive. "A crash or ten wasn't going to deter them."
More than one person has noted the similarity of TMW's new name to a luxury German automaker, Bayerische Motoren Werke, most commonly referred to as "BMW." That similarity is no mistake, said branding expert Ron Townsend. "BMW is seen as a muscular, high end car with a good safety record."
It's also not the first time a company has switched to becoming known solely by an acronym. The AARP was named the American Association of Retired Persons but switched to just "AARP" in 1999 to reflect that the organization wasn't just for retired people and to allow the title to fit on its bimonthly magazine in large enough type so more than 60 percent of the readership wouldn't need to use bifocals.
Despite the new nomemclature, Jeanie Billingsworth, of Bay City, Mich., remained unconvinced, and even gleeful about Toyota's woes. I don't care if they call it that celebrity site that shows pictures of "best beach bums" or asks "who'd you rather," Billingsworth said, apparently referring to TMZ.com, in an interview at a gas station. "Around here, we bleed Ford, Chrysler or GM."
Billingsworth then finished topping off her Lincoln Navigator, swore at the $75 total, and drove off in a haze of emissions.