Dear Mr, Toyoda, can you please reprogram my car? Thank you for adding a subroutine to prevent the gas pedal and brake pedal from operating simultaneously. But can you turn back on my navigation system?
I have great respect and admiration for Toyota as a corporation and for its products. Perhaps this is one of many reasons I have owned 18 Toyota vehicles. Toyota has achieved many great things over the past 30 years the least of which is becoming the number one auto maker in the world. It is a bit of an old school American capitalist paradox, however, that the company that makes the vehicles that last the longest sell the most. But I, for one, am grateful for this and have enjoyed the fruits of it for my entire driving career thus far. Yet, something has become amiss with my darling Toyota. Though all the recent recalls and now the tsunami and the disabled Fukushima power plant, might make knocking Toyota out of vogue, I have a personal issue with Toyota that has also erupted to critical mass.
With little hope of Toyota addressing my trepidations personally or on a whole for all their customers in the foreseeable future, I hope blogging about it will give me some sense of taking useful action on the matter. Perhaps Mr. Akio Toyoda could inadvertently stumble across my little rant of concern for his company and see this as some possible useful fodder for his new cause “grasping for salvation.”
Way back when
My first Toyota was a 1979 Corolla station wagon. That was a GREAT vehicle. Unlike my Ford Pinto that literally ate itself to death or my many 1960s VW Beetles that might have been better marketed as a motorcycle with doors, my first Toyota irrevocably endeared me to simple yet beautiful fit and finish, solidity, a well-tuned engine and that new car feel even after 100,000 miles. More Corollas, Tacomas, Venzas and Avalons would ensue prior to my purchase of a 2010 Tacoma 4×4 and 2011 Avalon. But it was these latest models that had me begin to question whether or not the king had any clothes on.
Last year Toyota bought back my ever faithful, 180,000 miles, pristine condition 1995 Tacoma v6 4×4 as it finally failed the frame inspection under their voluntary recall or as they call it, “Extended Customer Support Program for 1995-2000 Tacoma Pickups”. Some unlucky guy had a 1996 Tacoma on a lift back in 2004 or 2005 and it broke completely in half. According to Toyota, over 800,000 truck frames made in Mexico did not receive proper anticorrosion protection. Kudos to Toyota, however, for taking proactive action on this matter. While I am still mourning the loss of my beloved 1995 Taco, I am quickly consoled whilst driving my new speedway blue 2010 Tacoma v6 4×4.
But I digress just a bit. For I am not writing this to bash Toyota. I am not concerned with unintended acceleration, sliding floor mats or even corroding frames. What is at issue for me is the effect all of this may have had on Toyota’s design directives.
Present day Toyota
Clearly, to me at least, Toyota’s decision to establish paths of remedy for the corroding frames in 1995-2000 Tacomas was to circumvent litigation. While safety is indeed a welcome side effect, I could find nothing in the official documentation that presented customer safety as the main caveat.
Fast forward to the gas pedal fiasco (I call it this to ridicule the public, not Toyota) and we do find evidence that driver safety was a motivator for Toyota’s courses of action. But existing and pending litigation and even the US government had to be of major influence on how Toyota behaved with the matter. In February of 2011 the NHTSA in collaboration with NASA concluded a 10 month investigation finding “driver error or pedal misapplication” as the probable cause. With this announcement Toyota’s stock rose 4%. Question is… did Toyota become at all physiologically scarred by recalling 8 million cars because 37 people died by alleged sudden unintended acceleration and the news media’s less than covert attempt to pay off expert witnesses to prove Toyota’s culpability? I think so.
So on to my beef with Toyota. My new $40,000 2011 Avalon Limited is crippled by design. I thought the “Limited” moniker meant it was the cream of the crop. But it turns out it was in fact the negative connotation of the word.
My heated and air-conditioned seats barely do a thing (now I cannot sue them for my ass burning or freezing off). My automatic rain sensing windshield wipers behave like an epileptic robot (apparently it is safer to have one’s windshield covered in water and have the wiping action be a random surprise) and my Bluetooth hands free and navigation are everything but useful and safe while the car is going over 5 miles per hour (I like paper maps better anyway. They can completely cover the windshield if held just so).
When I complained about these things to both the dealer and Toyota customer service their response was they are performing as designed. BRILLIANT! After all the seemingly contrived issues and problems with Toyota’s over the past 10 years, they now have finlly found the universal resolution to all customer complaints about the functionally of their vehicles; We designed it like that, deal with it! Hmm, are Akio and Steve sharing secrets at the weekly world dominance poker game?
While the base functions of the car, climate control and driving, etc are good and in line with my tenured experience with Toyota, the interactive electronics are quite horrible. A friend of mine recently bought a Ford with the beautiful new Microsoft based Sync system. Wow! What a stunning experience! While I could most certainly foray into a tangential rant on the qualities of the Ford Sync system, let me just say I cannot believe the car comes free with this brilliant $40,000 media/main control center.
It’s truly a shame that a company like Toyota whose founding DNA was to make a difference in how cars were designed, made and marketed has morphed from a company of innovation to one of capitulation. I am steadfast in my belief that I am driving a vehicle whose primary design premise is based on prevention of litigation, fear of the media and avoidance of congressional witch hunts. When asked what went through his mind while he was crouched in the rocket nose-cone, awaiting blastoff, John Glen wryly replied “I was thinking that the rocket had twenty thousand components, and each was made by the lowest bidder”.
This all makes me wonder if the floor boards in Fords do not rust out any more like my 1977 Pinto. Is it time for me to overcome my childhood scars from American car manufacturers? Has Ford in fact gone from Fix-Or-Repair-Daily to Fly-Owned-Reliably-Dope? Maybe my next blog will be on how I jammed a Ford Sync nav system into my Avalon?