POSTSCRIPT / June 10, 2004 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Mitsubishi recalls defective Pajeros

FIREMAN’S JOB: Business firms do their best to ensure that their products and services measure up to the needs and expectations of customers. They spend at lot of time and money for this endeavor, but they do not always succeed 100 percent.

When something goes wrong, which always happens, we consumers expect them to address the problem frontally and to deal with complaining customers fairly, courteously and with dispatch.

Mitsubishi Motors Corp. of Japan announced last week a global recall of defective vehicles, including its popular sports utility Pajero, to replace defective parts in the rear-wheel shaft, bumpers and signal indicators.

When the story broke out, persons purportedly representing the local Mitsubishi company went around town to do a fireman’s job. Wielding advertising pressure, they succeeded in preventing the publication/airing of stories and follow-ups on the recall.

They must have been flushed with their successful censorship that one marketing staff bragged to some motoring writers how they killed some stories and column items on the Mitsubishi recall.

This is arrogance of (advertising) power. Media professionals resent it.

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BRASILIAN LEMON: This Mitsubishi item reminds me of a two-part motoring series that I wrote when I was assistant managing editor of the now defunct Daily Express in the 1970s.

Subject was a German-brand wagon-type vehicle built in Brasilia. To balance glowing stories about its allegedly superb performance in an endurance marathon drive, I decided to do my own endurance test of the machine and report on it as a consumer.

The difference was that the official test car given top ratings was driven around trailed by a service van loaded with top mechanics, tools and spare parts. Roadside repairs and adjustments were logged but never reported in media.

Mine was a stock car, bought at random off the showroom, driven by this average motorist with nothing but the regular tool box and spare tire on board. No service shop-on-wheels backed me up as I did my own endurance test drive to and from Bicol.

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NO CENSORSHIP: When I started writing on the breakdowns and defects, etc., that bugged the Brasilian-made wagon, an irate executive of the car dealer called our publisher, the late Johnny Perez, to tell him outright to stop my series.

His punch line was a veiled threat to pull out their advertising if our paper did not stop the publication of my articles.

Johnny called me to his office. Over cups of coffee, he told me about the pressure on him and a similar experience of his when he was still writing for the Daily Mirror , the afternoon daily of the old Manila Times chain before it was closed under martial rule.

At the end of our chat, Johnny told me that he would not touch my series, would allow it to run — and was willing to forego the fat advertising revenue if that was the price we had to pay.

My second and final article came out as scheduled. The car firm suffered a big number of cancelled reservations and sales of that particular model dropped. But, in fairness to the car distributor, they did not pull out their advertising as threatened.

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‘STAR’ HAD IT: It might interest readers who missed the news item to know that the Philippine STAR published on Page B-8 in the Business section last Saturday (June 5) this Agence France Presse report:

TOKYO (AFP) — Japan’s scandal-tainted carmaker Mitsubishi Motors on Thursday announced yet another recall of about 347,000 passenger cars globally as its share price dropped 6.54 percent on the Tokyo stock market.

Mitsubishi Motors Corp. informed the transport ministry that it would recall 116,352 vehicles in Japan, including its popular Pajero sports utility vehicle, to change defective parts in the rear-wheel shaft, bumpers and signal indicators.

The recall covers 10 models made between October 1998 and February 2004 for the Japanese market. An additional 231,000 vehicles — the Pajero and the Carisma sedan — would also be subject to a recall overseas, depending on local regulations.

“This is an ordinary recall so we have no plans to issue an apology,” a Mitsubishi spokesman said.

The announcement came only a day after the company announced it had failed to declare a full recall and inform authorities about faults on 163,707 passenger cars in the 1990s, adding to a series of its coverup scandals.

Shares in Japan’s fourth largest carmaker fell 14 yen to 200 yen on the Tokyo Stock Exchange for the third consecutive decline while the benchmark Nikkei-225 index fell 1.91 percent.

Mitsubishi Motors said late Wednesday the coverup was revealed after an internal inquiry launched as part of its effort to revamp the firm, which has suffered a slump in sales and failed to win additional financial support from US-German auto giant DaimlerChrysler, its major shareholder.

Mitsubishi Motors has already been blighted by a series of other recalls for cars and trucks made by the group’s companies.

In late May, Mitsubishi Fuso and Bus also announced a recall of early 170,000 vehicles to fix a serious defect found in a clutch housing on heavy-duty trucks.

In 2000, Mitsubishi Motors was mired in a scandal after confessing it had failed to inform the authorities about at least 64,000 customer complaints over faulty vehicles since 1977, opting to repair the vehicles instead of issuing costly model-wide recalls.

“Mitsubishi Motors has lost the trust of both customers and investors by committing wrongdoing any carmaker should not make,” said Kenichi Azuma, equities analyst at Cosmo Securities.

“A lot of investors consider that it is extremely difficult for Mitsubishi Motors to survive the current difficulties,” he said.

Sales of Mitsubishi vehicles in May plunged 56.3 percent to 4,213, apparently hit by the coverup scandals. The fall is much steeper than the 10.6 percent year-on-year drop in overall new vehicle sales in Japan.

The cash strapped Mitsubishi Motors announced last month a survival plan to raise about Yen450 billion ($4.1 billion) from its group firms and other investors, and to cut its global workforce and output.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 10, 2004)

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