The Preposterous Side of This Week’s Toyota News

Even though we wrote what seemed a perfectly adequate speech for him, Akio Toyoda chose to fumble his way through a hastily-called press conference this morning instead. We want to be on this guy’s side, but he is doing nothing more than providing fodder for comedians. As Bartel Schmitt of TTAC put it, he said basically nothing, other than offering “a heartfelt apology for causing so much trouble to many of our customers.”

So what is the company going to do? Why, they’re setting up a committee on quality control. I mean, Jay Leno would be hard-pressed to come up with a better answer. To add to the farce, we heard straight-faced Jim Lentz, Toyota’s U.S. sales boss, serving up whoppers to NBC’s Matt Lauer—among them that the company first heard about unintended acceleration in October of last year.

It was a case of deep irony when the press finally picked up on Akio—in Davos at the World Economic Forum when he should have been at home minding the store—driving off in an Audi in the midst of the recall crisis. Jon Stewart had fun with that and more, producing a classic send-up in his “Toyotathon of Death,” which follows.

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One website announced that Toyota was recalling defective airbags to install new and improved ones. The company was taking these measures

so that in the event a gas pedal sticks on any of our vehicles, and if firm and steady application of the brakes and/or frantic waving of the arms fails to stop the vehicle, Toyota’s improved airbags will reduce the amount of injuries or fatalities to Toyota owners.

Some auto writers ended up being funny in spite of themselves. Autoweek’s Mark Vaughn got testy that many were just taking the Toyota business too seriously. “Look people, there are 600 NHTSA recalls a year, almost two a day.” Some are for serious safety defects, and here we are, making a total tsimmes over sticking gas pedals. Mark says it’s just too easy to blame plain old dumb driving on the manufacturer. There are dangers in most all cars, he says.

Mark, I hereby nominate you for the first CarGurus Head-in-the-Sand Award for 2010.

Fortune’s Alex Taylor wrote a thoughtful and critical piece about the historical/cultural problems plaguing Toyota’s “no-show leadership.” But claiming the excuse that it’s always been a company run by engineers, people who are “uncomfortable with softer subjects — especially in different cultures — that aren’t easily understood through a root-cause analysis,” well, that’s a cop-out if I ever heard one.

Taylor “senses a deep debate going on inside the company [on how to handle the recall].” Well, guys, the time for debate is over. Unless you want to see more jokes on late-night TV and more plummeting sales.

Any other humorous aspects to the Toyota debacle that you have noted?

—jgoods

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8 Comments

  1. tgriffith :
    @randy
    …the cars can be brought back into line a lot faster than the brand can.
    I have to say, that Daily Show piece is pretty dang funny though!

    Yea, that’s something GM sure is learning the hard way. I know people who got screwed 25 years ago buying a GM lemon and will NEVER buy another car from them.

  2. @Julio I don’t want to hijack anyone’s blog article, but I will say this: drunken/elderly/teenage drivers behind the wheel of any defective vehicle on the road..better.watch.out.for..AFRODUCK!

  3. ~Static~, you’re just being humble. Your article was TOTALLY REALS. Toyota has had defective airbags for years. I mean, if crashing into a telephone pole at 90 miles an hour results in a fatality, shouldn’t someone/something be to blame (except the drunken teenage/elderly driver)? Not to mention that the drunken/elderly/teenage driver was driving a Prius with BOTH a stuck accelerator AND defective breaks.

  4. Just a thought but full throttle acceleration in a Prius isnt very rapid try this….. Turn the cell phone off turn the cruise control off watch the traffic thru the windscreen both hands on the steering wheel and feet ready on the pedals. try driving properly or keep well clear of crap hybrids.

  5. Hehehe, liked the Jon Stewart clip! Thanks for the honorable mention. My article satirizing the Toyota recall (airbags as opposed to accelerator pedals) was meant to be funny. No more, no less.

    I own a Toyota, have owned three of them and consider myself a loyal customer..but just to be on the safe side, I’m buying a crash helmet, and increasing my liability and life insurance. It’s more about easing the concerns I have of other drivers on the road: sticking accelerators, no brakes, text messaging their girlfriends, or just generally bad driving habits. =)

  6. Good piece, Goodman.

    I’m still upset with Toyota for not recalling my 1982 Land Cruiser FJ-60 for a faulty manifold. So I sold it to some other sucker.

    Anyone want to buy a Prius?

    -Jason

  7. @randy
    Yeah yeah yeah…
    Toyota (and Toyoda) are definitely disappointing a lot of people. I’m mostly appalled at the company’s lack of leadership through this… the cars can be brought back into line a lot faster than the brand can.

    I have to say, that Daily Show piece is pretty dang funny though!

  8. To me, the funniest aspect is that cargurus resident Toyota car promoter, tgriffith, is hiding elsewhere on the blog. He must be related to Akio Toyoda.

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