Friday, February 5, 2010

The Mugging of Toyota

Toyota has produced cars that pose a risk to life and safety. Accidents, fatalities, serious injuries, and tragedies have resulted.

For that Toyota is being pilloried in the media and attacked by politicians.

Perhaps Americans feel betrayed because Toyota has produced generations of safe, well designed, well built cars. Toyota was the gold standard of cars, but has quality issues in recent years.

Perhaps we are shocked that Toyota is no better than Detroit in quality.

Perhaps we cannot comprehend that Toyota is seemingly clueless and has no idea what is happening.

Perhaps it’s part of the phenomenon of rooting for the underdog, and then turning on the underdog once it’s been on top too long.

Perhaps in these economic times of trouble the people need to see large companies share in their misery, especially a foreign company.

And yet, GM built generations of poorly designed and poorly built cars, going back to the Corvair. Toyota’s success is as much due to GM’s quality problems as its own excellence.

Ford produced both the Pinto with exploding gas tanks and the Explorer, with or without Firestone tires. with rollovers. At least 27 died in the Pinto fires, and over 100 with the Explorer rollovers. The accident rate of the Ford vehicles exceeds that of the Toyotas. But no public and political tsunami ever swept over Ford.

GM produced from 1973-1987 about 9 million Chevy and GMC pickup trucks with side-saddle exploding gas tanks, but escaped public excoriation. Over 725 paid with their lives for the problem GM knew of since the beginning of production.

Chrysler had a long standing problem with transmissions, and still has a reputation for poor quality. It never received the Toyota treatment.

No manufacturer is immune from safety recalls.Mercedes and BMW had their problems.

Yet Toyota has won the fickle finger of fate award.

Here’s the reality.

Motor vehicles are complicated mechanized equipment with 10,000 parts and full of electronics.

The cost of the automobile is tens of thousands of fatalities annually.

Brakes fail.

Accelerators stick

Tires explode

Transmissions stick

Axles and transaxles snap

Batteries die

Lights burn out

Vehicles hydroplane

SUV’s roll over

Electronics malfunction

That’s not including driver error.

Tragic accidents happen

Yet Toyota is being mugged by the press and politicians.

Last week the UAW and Teamster unions picketed in front of the Japanese Embassy in Washington to protest Toyota’s closing of its plant in Fremont, California. The plant is Toyota’s only unionized plant in the United States. In addition, Toyota will be using non-union car carriers.

Unions have used such tactics in recent years in their battles with management.

Congressional hearings have been called. Congressman John Dingell, the Grand Inquisitor of Congress, will chair one of them. Congressman Dingell is from Michigan, and has long been known as an ally of Detroit. Dearborn Heights is in his Congressional District. Ford is coincidentally headquartered in Dearborn, Michigan.

It may just be another coincidence, but GM and Chrysler are now owned by the U.S. government and the UAW. Chicago Rules govern this administration from Chicago. Opposition, political until now, but perhaps also economic, may be crushed by any means possible. Toyota is a private, Japanese company. GM and Chrysler are nationalized American companies.

Toyota estimates that the cost of the recalls and lost sales will be about $2 billion. That does not include the costs of trial lawyers, class action suits, and the settlements for the victims.

Toyota is entering legal purgatory.

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