Threatened Toyota Boycott Is Put on Hold

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Rev. Jesse Jackson has stepped back from a proposed boycott of Toyota Motor Sales after the Torrance-based company said it was considering the addition of an African American advertising agency.

Toyota executives and Jackson will meet again later this summer to discuss diversity issues at the company, according to Toyota Senior Vice President Don Esmond. "Our commitment is to work with Rev. Jackson, and we appreciate his input. There is no boycott, and no need for one."

Jackson, in a prepared statement released after a two-hour session Wednesday in Torrance, described the meeting as "meaningful yet inconclusive." Jackson added that additional discussions slated for August "will determine our future relationship with Toyota."

Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition in May called for a boycott of Toyota vehicles after the company ran what Jackson described as "offensive marketing materials." The controversy was sparked by a promotional piece for the Toyota RAV4 sport-utility vehicle. The postcard-like advertisement showed a smiling black man with a likeness of a RAV4 embedded in a bright gold tooth.

Toyota said it had voluntarily withdrawn the edgy ad prior to receiving any complaints. Jackson, however, said the piece had created "widespread outrage and indignation."

During Wednesday's meeting in Torrance, Toyota executives defended their past record on diversity issues and said that the company was in discussions with an agency that specializes in African American advertising to assist Saatchi & Saatchi, its primary advertising firm.

Jackson's Chicago office noted that only 62 of 1,390 Toyota and Lexus dealers are women or minorities, and that Toyota's board of directors has no African American members. Toyota said Thursday the percentage of minority-owned Toyota and Lexus dealerships grew by 38% in the last three years. The car company also said that, by 2002, 5% of its corporate purchases will be made from minority-owned firms.

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