09 February 2010

Is Toyota the new Pinto?

As a (happy) Toyota owner I feel the urge to chime in on the recent spate of news involving the Toyota recalls. I have owned three Toyota Corollas in my life. My very first car was a little red used one which I bought in 1981 for $1000. My next used Corolla was blue and bought from the original owner with insurance proceeds from a demolished Hyundai. And my current one which I bought new in 2006. Luckily, it is not one of the many models involved in the current recall. Even more lucky, is the fact that I have not had one problem with my '06 Corolla.

Well, actually, a funny thing happened the first day we got it home. And it actually involved a faulty floor mat, but it was completely my fault. Every Toyota I have ever driven has been a manual transmission which requires the pressing down of the clutch before the ignition will engage. After getting the car home I installed my old floor mats and without realising the minuscule depth of clutch pressure prohibited by the floor mat I was unable to get the car started. After several calls to the dealer, the salesman actually came to my house and disconnected the security system and took the car back to the dealer only to have the more astute repair man discover that it was the floor mat all along. Oops. Today it is nearly four years old and has barely 22K miles, and I am hoping to drive it for another ten or fifteen years (*knocks on wood*).

I have complete sympathy for those folks who do own models in the recall. I can't imagine feeling afraid every time you must drive to work or have to strap a young child in one. I can't imagine having to struggle to make that monthly payment to Toyota Financial Services while wondering if you're paying off a death-trap. It's got to be scary and frustrating. I believe Toyota Corp.'s initial anemic response has added greatly to the frustrations of its customers. And that is unfortunate.

I used to be much more brand loyal. Toyota; Levi's; Doc Martens; But ultimately it is the quality represented by the brand not the name itself. I think Toyota may have got a little too big too fast but I do not think they deserve the entirety of blame. Part of their rapid success was built upon the sale of the hybrid Prius® which was fueled by the public demand for more energy efficient vehicles. A demand that American automakers are only beginning to respond to. Honda and Toyota have been the front runners in this movement toward fuel-efficient vehicles for many years already.

Ford survived the Pinto. Chevrolet survived the Corvair. If Toyota is to survive the current recall it will be born of superior customer service and return to a quality product that people will trust in again. I think the trust and brand loyalty runs deep in most Toyota owners. That loyalty and trust would be the most tragic loss for the company. However, still incomparable to those who sadly have lost much more.

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