Inspection-No Need in Going on Auto, part IV… Toyota

Well, this is one for the records: a part four Inspection. I’m usually reluctant to do a part two, and cringe when I do part three. I may have done two or three part III columns since my first Inspection , September 1972. Reminds me of on old Night Gallery. When a rather specific topic acts like a corpse that not only digs itself out of the grave I put it in, but then walks up to my door… and starts to slam on that door with its fist, I pay attention.

As a former gravedigger myself, I’d wonder, do I need a better shovel, or a better backhoe? Maybe the business community does when it comes to inadequate responses to recalls, or burying certain CEOs checks or bonuses?

You know the skew to this edition this time, unless you live on Venus: Toyota.

When I really get burned on any brand, I usually never go back. Toyota is one of two brands I have sworn never to buy again. The other is Ford. I owned one of the first Pintos; the one with the Brit engine. Cheap, white metal handles, tissue paper body, Brit tech engine? And nothing I have experienced or seen amongst relatives and friends has convinced me to buy again. Enough said.

Toyota? Well, I owned one of the worst cars ever made, according to my mechanic, car dealers I have worked for and their mechanics: the Toyota Crown. Look into the off and on, off and on, off and on production figures for the Crown. Ewe. But everything I’ve seen and heard since has made me think maybe, just maybe: almost 40 years later, I might eventually go back. My independent mechanic has become mostly a mechanic who works on and owns Toyota… and he’s a hard, very critical, man to convince. Plus I use small trucks for work and he’d rather not work on my previous favored brand: Nissan. He likes my other favorite brand too: Honda. They do make a very expensive truck that has a bed too small for my props and other equipment. Oh, well.

Toyota has had a good reputation, overall. So, yes, I have been tempted.

The recent recall is bad: really bad. The danger obvious and the handling of it is worse. Though I would argue that the kind obsession the media seems to have with the Toyota right now is strangely obsessive, if you look at all the past recalls of car companies we oddly consider “American,” despite actual content.

But I wonder… when’s the last time we heard a CEO of Ford, GM or Chrysler so publicly reply and apologize for the defects and his own mishandling of the situation? When have I heard or seen reporters chase those CEOs around and around, trying to get such a statement? And what about those many, many recalls by, sometimes marginally, “American” (content) car companies? Haven’t there been, occasionally, recalls about defects as dangerous, or worse? I can’t seem to recall Jay, or David, or Conan making them the major butt of their monologue jokes, at least not comments that are on every news service, night and day.

Having fought this battle three times I found response to the previous three auto-based columns was often been filled with ill-informed anger from readers; some who apparently don’t know how to read or like to lie about what they have read. Most of this has been directed at me because I dare to criticize GM. I’m guessing this one will have the same problem.

Regardless of such, it’s hard to deny the success of Toyota, Honda and Nissan, and their success is not based on mythical perception of quality, reliability. Consumer Reports alone makes that pretty damn obvious.

I don’t discount ignorance and hatred. Visiting an old friend near New York City a number of years ago I got lectured on buying “zipperhead cars.” (What the hell does that even mean, and how does it relate to the Japanese? Answers.com tells me “zipperhead” is a person with a closed mind. So who has a closed mind here?) But I really think most of that has nonsense has passed. I would love for us to have true American car companies, but content alone has made the car biz international. Can’t say I’m a fan, but it is what it is.

Time for a curse word: “tariffs.” I know: won’t happen. They’ll keep theirs. We’ll make excuses not to follow suit. “Oh, but they’ll just raise theirs then.” Their tariffs are already higher than ours, but if they do raise theirs well we have the winning hand: the market they want, so we just meet their bluff. If they don’t want our market, well I’m sure GM does, Ford, or… do we include FIAT/Chrysler? With so much car content being foreign, is there really a true “American” automobile maker anymore?

Back to Toyota…

The major problem here; annoying cliche’ that it is, would be “they are a victim of their own success.” Toyota; another cliche’, has “built their reputation on their reliability and quality.” The current brouhaha is a bit like walking in on George Washington fooling around on Martha with King George, and then funding them both involved in an S&M-based orgy. Ouch. Doesn’t quite fit the image, but that doesn’t erase all both did to help create a nation.

And two recalls doesn’t erase the reputation Toyota has earned for quality and reliability.

I think guessing that after all the recalls over the years for what some call “American” car companies the public has become inoculated against “American” recalls. Kind of like living with a bad back like mine: eventually you find ways to adjust and live with it almost as if it’s not there. Almost.

Yet from the Tsunami of angst that keeps slamming us you would think the big three, or two if you wish to count out Fiat’s new acquisition, have achieved perpetual automotive perfection all these years.

Another comparison that shows how over the top this is would be the other 9/11; not one of my favorite cars to speed down the Blue Ridge Parkway with, but our reaction to 9/11/01. Countries all over the world have have many more attacks than we have and some quite huge in nature. But because that attack was somewhat unique and on American soil, there was an obvious over reaction… other countries have adjusted to an onslaught far worse collectively than that single day. But the Toyota reaction is almost worse in comparison. It’s almost as if after 9/11 we all jumped in boats and started rowing away from our native country.

As an aside, personally, I think the reaction to both Patriot Acts should have been more like that, not the reaction to 9/11.

I can’t promise I’ll dip my car purchasing toe into the Toyota big pond again, but if you prefer the brand, don’t jump ship on Toyota yet. I know, I’m probably not the best person to give such advice, since I abandoned Toyota and Ford long ago. Now, Ford? I stand by my decision. Toyota? Well, the current angst has done nothing to encourage me, or discourage me, either way. Maybe I will buy Toyota again, maybe I won’t.

But I understand your reluctance. Once rear ended by your own brand and burned, it’s hard to go back And, yes, that was a Pinto joke.

-30-

Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 30 years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks and into the unseen cracks and crevasses that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.

Copyright 2009
Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
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