6 Amazing Times Automakers Had To Apologize

Car Culture / Comments

The world's best carmakers don't always get things right.

Currently, the automotive industry is worth around $82.6 billion a year when measured by revenue. Around 60 million cars are sold per year, and the industry employs approximately 8.4 million people. About 40-50 new car models come onto the market each year in the US alone, and anywhere between 250 and 300 models are available here. Each automaker has departments full of people planning, forecasting, researching, designing, building, testing, working logistics, and promoting. Around those automakers are companies that contract, supply, research, advertise, and so on. You get the idea: There's a lot of cogs moving, a lot of wheels within wheels, and a lot of people making different decisions at different levels. That means there's a lot of opportunities for mistakes to be made. Mostly, those mistakes are easily fixed, even expected, and from time to time, contingency plans exist, like recalls. However, sometimes colossal mistakes are made, and someone has to step forward and apologize. These are some of those times.

Hyundai

Hyundai: Pipe Job

Advertising is a difficult business, and there's a lot of pressure, particularly in Europe. Ad agencies have to come up with consistently creative, clever, and edgy advertising. In 2013, an advert appeared from Europe for the hydrogen fuel cell-powered Hyundai iX35. It was titled Pipe Job and was based around the idea of a man trying to commit suicide using carbon monoxide poisoning but failing because the iX35 is a clean emissions car. Poor taste doesn't even begin to describe the concept. Initially, Hyundai Europe distanced itself from the advert claiming it was not requested or approved. The agency, Innocean Worldwide, which is a Hyundai subsidiary, said it was made purely "to get consumers' feedback on [a] creative idea employing hyperbole to dramatize a product advantage without any other commercial purpose."

Later, though, with some prodding from the UK's Telegraph newspaper, Hyundai Europe made a classic apology-non-apology: "We understand that some people may have found the iX35 video offensive. We are very sorry if we have offended anyone. We have taken the video down and have no intention of using it in any of our advertising or marketing."

Hyundai
Hyundai
Hyundai
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Toyota: Car Crash, Closed Factory, Not Building Exciting Cars

When Akio Toyoda stepped up to the plate and became president of Toyota in 2009, he did something incredible. When speaking to the Japan National Press Club just months after taking the position, he spoke with brutal honesty and issued a litany of apologies on behalf of the largest automaker in the world. Regarding a crash that led to a huge recall, Toyoda said, "Four precious lives have been lost. I offer my deepest condolences. Customers bought our cars because they thought they were the safest. But now, we have given them cause for grave concern. I can't begin to express my remorse."

He didn't stop there. Toyota closed its Toyota plant in California in 2009. In Japanese business culture, closing a production plant is to be avoided at all costs. Then he went on to say Japanese customers also deserved an apology for not creating exciting cars. "They say that young people are moving away from cars," he said. "But surely it is us, the automakers, who have abandoned our passion for cars." Toyoda (Grandson of founder Kiichiro Toyoda) is still president of Toyota's motor division. Since taking over, he has delivered great cars like the GR86 and Supra.

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Volkswagen: Racist Advert

While Volkswagen hemmed and hawed over how to deal with Dieselgate, the German automaker was unequivocal about apologizing for an advert that appeared on Instagram. In the advert for the Golf, a black man is pushed around by a pair of giant white hands before being flicked into a coffee shop to the sound of comedic sound effects. The way the lettering of "Der Neue Golf" on the screen dissipates also spelled out a racial slur. Volkswagen came straight out when the problem was pointed out, saying, "We posted a racist advertising video on Volkswagen's Instagram channel. We understand the public outrage at this. Because we're horrified, too."

"We at Volkswagen are aware of the historical origins and the guilt of our company during the Nazi Regime. That is precisely why we resolutely oppose all forms of hatred, slander/propaganda, and discrimination," Volkswagen went on to say. "The Volkswagen Group of today is at home all over the world. And the whole world is at home with us. Every race, every religion, every gender identity. This is our most precious asset. This is who we are. And this video is the opposite of what we are. On behalf of Volkswagen AG, we apologize to the public at large for this film."

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Mercedes-Benz: Quoting The Dalai Lama

This one still makes us angry. Essentially, China views the Dalai Lama as a dangerous voice for separatism when it comes to Tibet, a region it believes it owns is an integral part of China. As a result, China is quick to show its displeasure when anyone influential meets with the Dalai Lama or even mentions him. So, when Mercedes published a photo of a C-Class Coupe with a quote often attributed to the Dalai Lama above it, the Chinese media and government took offense. Of course, the Chinese government and media are the same thing, so when The People's Daily called Mercedes-Benz the "enemy of the people," that's a message from the ruling dictatorship. "It is not only an offense," the newspaper opined, "but even more so, it's a challenge to the Chinese people. Needless to say, it's hateful."

What did Mercedes do? It capitulated to a dictatorship that sees human rights, including free speech, as an existential threat. The German automaker apologized to China, saying, "Although we deleted the post as soon as possible, it has hurt the feelings of people in this country. In this regard, we extend our sincerest apologies."

Mercedes
Mercedes
Mercedes
Mercedes

Mercedes: Che Guavara Image

Before it "insulted" China, Mercedes touched the third-rail that is communism in a different way. During a presentation at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), a picture of Che Guevara, complete with a Mercedes three-point star on his beret, was flashed up on the screen as the Mercedes speaker said, "Some people would call this communism, but if this is a revolution, then 'viva la revolucion!'" He was referring to the car-sharing program Mercedes was experimenting with back in 2015. It caused frowns from plenty of people but particularly got the backs up of some Cuban exiles. As a result, Daimler AG apologized.

"In his keynote speech at CES, Dr. Zetsche addressed the revolution in automobility enabled by new technologies, in particular those associated with connectivity," the German automaker said. "To illustrate this point, the company briefly used a photo of revolutionary Che Guevara (it was one of many images and videos in? the presentation). Daimler was not condoning the life or actions of this historical figure or the political philosophy he espoused. We sincerely apologize to those who took offense."

Daimler AG

Lancia: Richard Gere In Tibet

Mercedes isn't the first or the last automaker to annoy China by shining a light on the issue of Tibet. Lancia managed that in 2005 when it used film start Richard Gere in a thirty-second TV advertisement for Europe. In the short video, Gere drives a Lancia Delta from Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood to a set replicating a village in Tibet where Gere makes a handprint in the snow with a young Tibetan monk.

Gere has often spoken out against China's treatment of Tibet, so he is already a persona non grata to China. Predictably, using him in an advertisement depicting Tibet and the monks got Beijing's back up. Fiat owns Lancia, and the brand, unlike Mercedes, had no financial reason to capitulate to China. However, it did: "To the extent that the Lancia Delta advertising may give rise to misinterpretations of its well-established position of neutrality, Fiat group extends its apologies to the Government of the People's Republic of China and to the Chinese people."

FIAT

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