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Kia and Toyota Appear to Allow Disparagment of Brand with Transphobia

August 25, 2017 By: jaysays Category: Commentary

Community Toyota Kia HondaDuring the course of arguments in the Texas Legislature for the horrifying Bathroom Bill, which would prohibit any person from using a restroom labeled for a gender different than the one listed on their birth certificate, several religious based organizations which use their beliefs to excuse terrorizing LGBTQ people stepped forward in support of the legislation.

Recently, I provided a listing of the companies which signed a letter of support from one such crusading organization, Texas Values.  The list included  Community Toyota *Kia* Honda in Baytown, Texas, which *ironically?* claims on their website, “There’s a reason why we decided to name our dealership ‘Community’. Here at Community Toyota, we do more than just offer great cars to our customers. Owners Kim and Roger Elswick also support and give back to a variety of local schools, charities, and organizations. We do this because we truly care about our community, and we want to see it grow and flourish!”

Having worked on numerous franchise issues in the past, including drafting agreements for dealer sales for other manufacturers, I was relatively certain that brand disparagement would be discouraged by companies like Kia and Toyota and included in their franchise contracts. Sadly, it doesn’t appear to be the case.

I contacted all three auto manufacturers in the hopes that they would have something substantive to say, and hopefully take action to protect their brand.  Below is the chain of communications with Toyota:

Thank you for contacting Toyota.

Below is a summary of your most recent email message received and our response.

We appreciate the continued opportunity to be of service to you.

 Subject
Franchise Violation – Baytown TX
 Discussion Thread
 Response Via Email (Ashley M.) 08/15/2017 11:36 AM
Dear Ms. Morris,
Thank you for contacting Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. (TMS) and sharing your concerns.
Please note, all Toyota dealerships are independent businesses and assume the responsibility for setting their own policies.  TMS has no ownership interest in any independent dealership and does not exercise control over any dealer, including Community Toyota of Baytown.
However, Toyota does not condone discrimination in any form and believes that respect for and inclusive treatment of all people is good for the workplace, marketplace and society as a whole. In our experience, the best ideas come when everyone is equally engaged and valued.
Thank you again for your feedback. Your email has been documented at our National Headquarters
Sincerely,
Ashley M.
Toyota Customer Experience Center
 Customer By Web Form (Jay Morris) 08/11/2017 01:53 PM
As you may be aware, the Texas legislature is in a special session attempting to pass legislation targeting the Transgender community. In a listing of business supporting this legislation, and thereby promoting discrimination against the transgender community, Roger Elswick, identifies himself as supporting the law on behalf of “Community,” and “Toyota ‘Kia’ Honda” of Baytown, Texas. I’m certain Toyota does not support this horrible law and wished to bring to your attention that a Dealer is disparaging your brand. Attached is a copy of the listing with a box around the offense for your information.

[—001:001479:21332—]

Kia responded via phone call and left this voicemail.

Check this out on Chirbit

I can’t decide what is most frustrating to me regarding the brand responses – is it Kia saying they, “apologize if you were offended,” or claiming they don’t take a position on legislation – which seems contrary to the roughly $670,000 in lobbying efforts in 2017 alone they spent they spent on lobbying in 2017 alone.

While I certainly appreciate that dealerships are independently owned, placing the brand name on pamphlets designed to sway legislation undoubtedly impacts lawmakers.  Seeing big names like Toyota, Kia, and Honda as “in support” harms the brand.  This experience has certainly soiled both brands for me, and I’ve recently taken the Kia Niro on a test drive and checked out the Toyota Prius as I’m considering a hybrid to lower my carbon footprint even further (I also test drove the Hyundai Ioniq).  If it were my brand promoting discrimination, particularly considering the present state of our country, I would do everything in my power to protect not only my brand, but the people being marginalized by the use of my brand name.

Of course, I do provide a caveat.  Thus far, I have been unable to obtain a copy of a Franchise Agreement for Kia or Toyota.  Perhaps the contracts give full rights to the dealership to use the Kia and Toyota brand name in any way they want – including on matters that taint the brand.  Perhaps, because the dealership is independent, one could affix the Toyota or Kia brand names to a Nazi Flag and scream “white power” and Toyota and Kia would just be like … “Hey, franchises can use our name however they want. Sorry if YOU were offended.”  But I doubt it considering the number of lawsuits Kia and Honda have been involved in regarding enforcing those Franchise Agreements.

And here’s a bit of unsolicited advise for Kia and Toyota – if there aren’t protections in your Franchise Contracts for your brand, you may want to consider new lawyers.

As of this writing, Honda has not responded to repeated communications.

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