Five top motoring PR disasters

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The disaster: Mercedes A-Class Elk Test
When? 1997

THE Mercedes A-Class entered motoring folklore for all the wrong reasons when it arrived on the car scene in 1997. Unfortunately for the German firm's execs, an over-enthusiastic Swedish journalist managed to roll the baby Merc while performing the now infamous 'elk test'.

The high-speed manoeuvre is effectively a slalom between cones and the Merc's dramatic flop onto its side made headlines around the world. Mercedes had to redesign the suspension and make stability control standard, but the PR disaster didn't ruin the car's reputation too badly – it's since found 143,000 UK homes!


The disaster: Audi TT spoiler
When? 1999

THE flowing lines of the first TTs were blamed for a series of crashes on the continent when the sports car was driven at excess speeds. It transpired that abrupt lane changes could cause drivers to lose control.
No official recall was made but, in 1999, customers were offered a series of modifications by the firm. These included a retro-fit spoiler, traction control and suspension modifications. Not everyone opted for them though – many said it ruined the cars look too much!


The disaster: DeLorean Crisis
When? 1978


MADE famous by the Back to the Future trilogy, the DeLorean DMC-12 could well have starred in its own movie. Set up in 1976 by John DeLorean, the company produced a futuristic sports car with gull-wing doors.
Construction began in Dunmurry, Northern Ireland in 1978, but costs escalated and the cars were a huge disappointment. They were prohibitively expensive and, with just 130bhp, woefully underpowered.
John DeLorean was then arrested on drug trafficking charges and his company went bankrupt. He was found not guilty, but by then it was too late for the DMC-12. The car has since become a cult hit and is now being built by a Texan firm.


The disaster: Ford Pinto Fuel Tanks
When? 1970s


YOU might not have heard of the Ford Pinto scandal of the 1970s, but it is a case that rocked the car manufacturer to the core. The Pinto had an alleged problem that meant the fuel tank could be easily damaged in a rear-end collision resulting in explosions.
It was claimed the lack of a rear bumper and poor reinforcement meant the tank could easily be pierced.
Ford was allegedly aware of the fault but decided it would be cheaper to pay off lawsuits rather than issue a recall. One magazine managed to obtain a document that analysed the cost of a repair – $11 – against the value of a human life, in what became known as the 'Ford Pinto memo'. Ford was acquitted of criminal charges and later initiated a recall, but still lost millions in lawsuits.


The disaster: Toyota Throttle Pedal Recall
When? 2010


LOOKING back, the recent Toyota throttle pedal saga already appears relatively minor. But that's not to say the marque's reputation hasn't taken a bashing.
Toyota was forced into recalling millions of cars worldwide after complaints the throttle pedal could stick open. In the UK, the Aygo, iQ, Yaris, Auris, Corolla, Verso and Avensis were all affected, and the Prius was recalled for a separate fault.
However, the manufacturer's PR machine pounced and Toyota was open and honest about the problem – executives' even apologised on YouTube. Dealers repaired cars around the clock and, for many owners, this was enough to restore their faith in their cars.