Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I love what you do for me, Toyota

Details of the firestorm Toyota finds itself in have been screaming in from every angle at a dizzying pace. What began as a floor mat recall has exploded and now encompasses computers that pin the throttle, computers that spin the steering wheel, insufficient brakes, scams by the media, scams by customers, congressional hearings, and Saturday Night Live spoofs. Jalopnik.com has one of the most comprehensive collections of articles on the subject, which is why most of the links (and the image) are theirs.

As a Ford enthusiast, I admit to initially reacting with a smirk. I have been generally aware of my automotive surroundings for 15 or so years, and those 15 years have not been kind to Ford. I'm happy to see this happening to someone (anyone) else, and it brings me even more joy to see it happening to a foreign company.

Unfortunately, I can't gloat at Toyota's misfortune. Not because of any pity I may have for them, but because of the endless stream of misinformation and deception that I think ultimately helps Toyota more than it hurts. I should have seen this coming, of course, as all the same songs were played when Ford (and GM and Chrysler) was in the crosshairs: the overblown reports of the recalls (recalls happen all the time), the congressional hearings (where the cluelessness of our congressmen and women was embarrassingly apparent), the suspicious media replications of problems. The customer scam angle is at least relatively new, but serves the same purpose.

In my opinion, these things don't help. Much of what I think is wrong with cars and the auto industry revolves around the lack of accurate information. Consumers make mis- or un-informed purchasing decisions, then drive their cars without sufficient knowledge of how to do it safely or efficiently. Feeding more mis-information into the fire certainly won't fix the problem. Giving a false reason for a real problem makes it all-too-easy to dismiss both.

If someone passes up a Toyota in favor of a Ford, I would much rather it be because they found that one of Ford's vehicles was better-suited for their purpose than any of Toyota's, or that they preferred not to send thousands of dollars overseas. While I'm happy to hear that membership in the Toyota Is Always Better Club is dwindling, it's unfortunate that the reasons for it are just as hollow as those that The Club was founded on to begin with.

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