Seth Kahan
Author, consultant

Seth Kahan

Change expert and author who has advised executives in 50-plus organizations, including Shell, World Bank, Peace Corps and NASA. He can be reached at


Changing hearts and minds

Q: U.S.-made cars are now held in higher regard by American consumers than Asian-made vehicles -- a significant turnaround in public opinion. Is this the result of negative publicity about Toyota or have Ford and other U.S. carmakers made the changes needed to change the perception about their vehicles? How hard is it to transform a person or product's reputation once it's set in people's minds?

People's minds can be changed best through experience. In our era of information overload, something dramatic is required to penetrate our milieu and create the kind of experience that opinion turns on.

If you find yourself the victim of circumstance, prejudice, or ill-formed preconception, the best way to shift that perspective is to provide something new, relevant, and stimulating that leaves a lasting positive impression. That's what Ford has done.

While the economy struggles and jobs are still in short supply, with Detroit in tatters, Ford has managed its way through the rubble and emerged with several strong cards in its hand.

First and foremost, they have produced the numbers. This on the back of refusing the federal infusion of cash. CEO Alan Mulally has emerged a captain with foresight and strong leadership. Ford's Fusion and Focus were introduced as global vehicles in 2007, sharing platforms on every shore - a long awaited move. Now Ford is pushing the frontier in electronics, turning cars into operating systems that will run apps just like iPhones, merging technology with travel, commuting, and safety.

It is moves like these that demonstrate clear vision and capacity to deliver in the midst of economic chaos. This turns heads and shifts opinion, which is exactly what Ford needs.

Toyota will need some of the same medicine. But, today they still appear befuddled, unsure, caught off guard, wondering what is going wrong. Not good for public perception and the economic support it engenders.

But, it's not impossible. With a string of visible successes, Toyota can turn public sentiment around just as well.

So, if you are fighting a less-than-desirable image, find your way into the spotlight with a clear-headed, demonstrable display of level-headed victory. Then you will enjoy the great pivot as the masses turn and nod toward you in approval, too.

By Seth Kahan  |  April 26, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  Comeback attempts Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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I want to second the comments of the previous poster. How can we buy an American car when those are the companies that ruined this country!! Have you tried to hire a day laborer in the last 20 years?? Unless they are right off the boat and under 16, they are just about useless.
My business has been using nothing but Toyota trucks for the last 20 years and we just switched to Hyundai. Those are companies with proven track records of getting the lower class in this country focused on assembly work and breaking a real sweat. Are they perfect, no! Keep an eye out for the new Geely factory that is under works in Alabama, that chinese car maker is going to offer a dirt cheap truck and will not even offer full time work or health care.
Fact is that we have spoiled the american so-called middle class. I literally fired 4 housekeepers in the last month because of their problems working an honest Sunday. If you are buying American cars, then keep in mind that you are just adding to the thousands of middle class engineers and managers that do nothing but vote democratic and big governnment. Get the government off your estate and help put America right, buy the foreign cars built with honest sweat!!!

Posted by: RPeacock | April 28, 2010 8:17 AM
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Since obama made special exceptions for union workers not have to pay the "cadillac health plan" taxes while I (not a union employee but work as hard anyway) am required to pay it, will not buy a vehicle from any American company that employs union workers. I also do not approve of the bail out of GM and I haved owned GM's for years. Those days are now over.
I haven't been impressed by Ford's offerings but I do respect them for managing themselves and not having to beg the government for a bailout.
I would however, buy a Toyota.
All companies have had recalls for various reasons.
I believe that probably Toyota will be safer now than before as a result of this fiasco.

Posted by: tjmlrc | April 28, 2010 7:04 AM
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