In 2009 Interbrand named Toyota the 8th best global brand in the world. The automaker has held onto a position in Interbrand's top-10 list for many years, but experts say that its ranking could slip if Toyota fails to use this calamitous recall of 8.5 million vehicles as an opportunity to solidify its customer relationships.

According to Bill McEwen, global practice leader, brand management at Gallup and author of Married to the Brand, Toyota's ranking will most likely slip. By how much is the real question. "It's not a question of where they are, but what will they do to get back [on top], and is it possible?" McEwen asks. "The two foundations of a relationship are confidence and integrity. I think they've probably taken a shot on confidence. With integrity, it's how quickly they respond when a catastrophe arises."

Toyota has come under fire in recent weeks when it was late to respond after several reports of its vehicles crashing due to the gas pedals sticking. The delayed response by Toyota created opportunity for panic when U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray Lahood told Toyota owners to "park their cars." The lack of response also left Toyota owners scratching their heads about their options. "The perception now is, 'Gee, I thought they were different in terms of attention to detail,'" McEwen says. "They didn't' seem to pay attention to the fact that they made an error. They got smacked in the hubris a bit."