It's no secret that Americans love their cars. And a lot of Americans love, really love, Toyotas. Now, I'm no conspiracist, but after World War II Japan as a nation, empowered in part by America's rebuilding, built high-quality, low-priced consumerables--mainly electronics and vehicles. "Made In Japan" went from meaning cheap and crummy to cheap and great. Slowly but surely Japanese automakers overtook Detroit's best in almost every arena.
The last few months have not been kind to Toyota. It started with a horrible crash in California which took several lives and was apparently caused by a stuck accelerator pedal. Corporate downplayed the severity of the incident (plausible denial) and kept on rockin' and rollin'. Then another accident. Then the media got hold of the story. Then Toyota decided to remedy the problem. By hacksawing off a chunk of the gas pedal and piggybacking a longer retaining tab for the floormat, processes which they said would fix the problem. There was a bigger problem, however.
The American people.
We're not accustomed to being pissed on and told it's raining, which is what Toyota was trying to do. This morning Toyota halted all sales of eight-eight--of their new vehicle line until the issue was resolved. To paraphrase Daddy, if that'd been Ford, they'da put them under the jail.
Ford had real problems in early 2001 with Firestone tires on Explorers. Several just blew up, causing damage and death. I was working for a dealership owned by the Kelly Management Corporation, which owned seventeen dealerships in Pennsylvania and Florida. The Monday after the whole thing blew open (no pun intended) I arrived at our dealership in Palm Bay, Florida to find a line of Explorers running out of the four lanes in the service drive into the road. As soon as I walked in, Mr. Kelly was on the phone for me. I told him the situation, and that the replacement tires weren't scheduled to arrive for two more days. "Rocky," he said, "I have fifteen trucks already on their way. Use those tires." Ford didn't pay for those tires; Mr. Kelly did. That's the way you do business.
Toyota has taken the "duck-and-run" approach. It's already hurt them, and it will hurt more in the days and months to come. It looks like what John Wayne said in Operation Pacific: "Kill 'em all; let God sort 'em out." What a sorry way to operate.
Time will tell how this affects Toyota's reputation in this country. Americans have been taken for granted, and I don't think they'll take it well. But we'll see.
In the meantime, have you driven a Ford lately?