Monday, December 28, 2009

The Ford Outlived the Toyota

The Toyota gave out before the Ford. Would you believe the Toyota died before the Ford? What are the odds?

I bought a 1999 Toyota Camry CE almost 11 years ago. My wife bought a Ford Focus wagon two weeks later. She fell in love with it the first time she laid eyes on it.

The Focus was a problem child from the get go. It was subject to 5-6 recalls, had to have its brakes replaced within 15,000 miles, and the rear hatch often doesn’t latch. The Ford gave meaning to the sage advice: “Don’t buy an American car made on Monday, Friday, the first day of hunting season, or the first year of production.”

Ford stood for "Fix or repair daily" or "Found on road dead."

We should have known something was wrong when Jacques Nasser became President of Ford in 1989 and dropped the advertising tag line “Quality is Job One.”

The Toyota had a few warranty problems with the power windows, but it was smooth driving from then on. The Toyota was a winner. Japanese quality versus Detroit quality, or why there are 11 Toyota dealers and 4 Lexus dealers versus only 6 dealers for Chrysler Corporation in all of Orange County.

Once upon a time, in the 1950’s and early 1960’s “Made in Japan” was a pejorative.

Then came the tiny Sony transistor radio, the Honda motorcycle, and the small Toyota Corona. “Made in Japan” denotes high quality today. “Made in Detroit” has the opposite image.

Japan instituted the prestigious Deming Award in 1950 for quality. Professor W. Edwards Deming was an American expert who preached his statistical process control methods to the Japanese beginning in 1950. American businesses had no interest in his ideas until decades later.

And the American equivalent of the Deming award is ????

Congress in 1987 created the Malcolm Baldrige Award. It continues to languish in obscurity in America.

Three and a half years ago the Camry was turned over to Number I Son and the Focus to Number 2 Son. The choice was obvious. #2 Son was in Michigan and the Ford could receive TLC from its birthplace. The Toyota was rugged; it didn’t need an umbilical cord.

The Toyota died last week in beautiful, sunny California. Technically, it didn’t die; it simply developed a strange engine noise, deep inside the engine. The estimate was $2,500 to pull the engine out and diagnose the problem, plus whatever the costs were to repair it, or replace it either with a rebuilt engine or a junkyard engine. Maybe the service department didn’t want to deal with it, or was encouraged to sell a new car, but with $1,800 in the Toyota three months ago, it was time to say Sayonara to the Camry.

The Toyota was put to sleep/scrap in junkyard heaven.

And the Focus? It’s now purring in Pennsylvania.

What are the odds?

A few caveats though. First, the Toyota had 107,000 miles on it, the Focus half that, and #I Son is tough on cars. However, Toyotas are supposed to last and most of the miles were highway miles. The Focus’ miles were stop and go city driving, with the past 3 ½ years in the Frost Belt and the past 1 ½ years often on unpaved roads to construction sites.

Now we learn that Toyota has major quality control issues due to rapid overexpansion, and that Ford performs better in the J. D. Powers studies than Toyota.

What are the odds?

The tortoise can beat the hare.

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