Toyota dealers in New York state have severely restricted their advertising on ABC-affiliated TV stations throughout the state because of what they consider unfair coverage of Toyota safety problems by ABC News.
The Greater New York Toyota Dealer Association, which represents 59 dealers in metropolitan New York City, and the Upstate New York Toyota Dealer Association, which represents 33 dealers in the rest of New York state, have cut their advertising on ten different ABC affiliates as much as 60 percent since March.
Dennis Lauzon, head of the Greater New York Toyota Dealer Association, confirmed that Toyota dealers in his group had voted to cut advertising on the ABC-owned station in New York City, WABC. "If you have a news agency that constantly bashes your product, that would make no sense whatsoever to be advertising," said Lauzon, president of Parkway Toyota in suburban Englewood Cliffs, N.J.
The ABC News investigative unit has been reporting on the problem of so-called "runaway Toyotas" since last November. In recent months, Toyota has recalled millions of vehicles over sudden acceleration issues. According to Lauzon, the dealers decided to restrict commercial buys at ABC local stations in March, at the height of widespread coverage of Toyota's response to the problem.
ABC affiliated stations in upstate New York also said advertising has been sharply reduced by the Upstate New York Toyota Dealer Association. A station manager at a New York ABC affiliate said that a member of the dealers group told him they were "pressured" by the Toyota corporation to limit their commercial buys to no more than a 10 percent share in his market because of what the automaker perceived as "biased and unfair reporting by ABC'S Brian Ross related to the Toyota acceleration issues."
A sales manager at another New York state ABC affiliate said that on average the ABC affiliates throughout the state could normally expect to get about a quarter of the local broadcast TV ad dollars spent by car dealers. Barry Waite of Waite Toyota in Watertown, N.Y., head of the Upstate New York Toyota Dealer Association, was unavailable for comment.
A spokesperson at Toyota's U.S. headquarters denied that the automaker had instructed its local dealerships to cut their ad buys. According to Celeste Migliore of Toyota Motor Sales, the local New York dealers decided on their own to take action against the ABC-affiliated stations. "As private business owners," said Migliore, "what they do with their businesses is up to them." Migliore noted that Toyota Motor Sales continues to buy commercial time on national ABC broadcast media. Jeanne Myers of Saatchi Saatchi, which buys advertising on behalf of the Upstate New York Toyota Dealer Association, did not respond to a request for comment.
In February, the Blotter reported that Toyota dealers in five Southern states pulled their commercials off ABC TV local affiliates in the region, complaining about ABC News' coverage of Toyota. The ad agency representing the 173 dealers told ABC affiliates that the shift was due to "excessive stories on the Toyota issues." According to an ABC station manager, the southeast boycott has since been lifted.
According to Lauzon, the restrictions in ad buys in New York state will continue until dealers see what they consider more balanced coverage of Toyota issues by ABC News.