Toyota – The Hits Keep Coming

I do not even know where to start. The Toyota situation is getting so far out of hand it is not even funny. This started months ago when a family was killed when driving a loaner Lexus ES350. That situation has since come into the limelight of both the media and the government. Currently, the total recall count is a little over 6 million vehicles. This is due to the “sticky accelerator.”

The decision came down Tuesday that all sales would come to a halt on the vehicles affected. This sales freeze will be in affect until a fix can be implemented. Toyota has said they expect a fix in the next two weeks rather than months. With that said, they failed to mention what that fix might be. I would call this a “we are scrambling as quickly as possible” tactic. Many are convinced Toyota does not have a fix yet. Others are reporting Toyota already has the fix and new parts are starting to ship. It is hard to know what to believe at this point. The freeze affects eight models which makes up about sixty percent of all North American sales for Toyota. The list of affected vehicles is as follows-

• 2009-10 RAV4

• 2009-10 Corolla

• 2009-10 Matrix

• 2005-10 Avalon

• Certain 2007-10 Camry

• 2010 Highlander

• 2007-10 Tundra

• 2008-10 Sequoia

Avis/Budget car rental announced they will be removing nearly 20,000 Toyota’s from its fleet immediately. Enterprise Rent-A-Car, who now also owns Alamo and National Car Rental, will be pulling all Toyota’s and Pontiac Vibe’s included in the recall. While numbers were not provided by Enterprise it is estimated to be about 4% of their fleet.

It is coming out now that Toyota has known there was problem since mid 2008. In June of 2008, Toyota announced “sticky pedals” are a drivability issue not a safety issue. Well we all know how that turned out now that people have died. Toyota has ignored this problem. They continued to sell cars when they knew something was wrong! This is just ridiculous. Even further, Toyota was contacted last Friday by NHSTA after they heard the models were still being sold. It took four days for Toyota to make the announcement of the sales freeze on the affected models. It almost seems as if they had no intentions of stopping sales until it started hitting the public and governmental eyes.

I have spoken with many people who are shocked at this whole situation. In a conversation with a gentleman in the baby boomer generation the words, “Never in my life have I seen an auto manufacturer halt sales of over half their line up. This is history in the making.” He continued to compare this situation to 9/11, the difference is that this is going on inside Toyota. Another friend compared Toyota to big tobacco.

Many see this whole situation as getting out of control. I have heard some say it is snowballing. I personally think this is far from over and it will get much worse. Toyota’s reputation has now been thrown into question in front of the public view and in a terrible way. It will be interesting to see how current Toyota owners react when it is time for them to purchase a new car. This could benefit Ford, Hyundai, and General Motors. Time will tell if that happens. In recap, Toyota knew what was going on before people were killed, they continued to sell vehicles, more people died, did not fully think through the recall, things are going to get worse. I think I’m going to get sick.

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15 Responses to “Toyota – The Hits Keep Coming”

  1. Joel, go through this checklist before writing any more about the “Toyota” situation:

    • Do tens of thousands of people die in car crashes every year? Yes/No
    • Do millions of people trust their lives to the mechanical competency of auto engineers? Yes/No
    • Do mechanical problems happen? Yes/No
    • Do mistakes happen? Yes/No
    • Should drivers know what to do in the event of a mechanical failure? Yes/No
    • And is it reasonable for passengers to expect that the driver knows what he/she is doing? Yes/No

    The only part of this whole story the media should be concentrating on is if Toyota had “a priori” knowledge that these parts would fail. And that is a matter for the courts.

    There’s nothing wrong with educating readers on the situation, but making wild claims such as your last paragraph add absolutely nothing to the situation:

    “In recap, Toyota knew what was going on before people were killed, they continued to sell vehicles, more people died, did not fully think through the recall, things are going to get worse. I think I’m going to get sick.”

    Furthermore, the “gas pedal” issue has occurred in a very small sample size; citing your friend’s comparison to villainous “Big Tobacco” or the sickening event of 9/11 are absolutely out-of-line in a blog post — opinion or not.

    There is one comparison with Big Tobacco I’d like to make: driving, like smoking, is a choice. But statistically, driving is far more hazardous to your health than smoking; and yet people still choose to drive.

    If you want to add to the conversation, talk about what people can do in case this happens to them, instead of wielding your keyboardist stumblings like a schoolyard bully.

    M!

    01/28/2010 at 2:53 pm Reply
    • I appreciate your comment. This Toyota situation is very tricky and many people are on each side. Toyota still has a lot to figure out. One of the things that I enjoy about the blogging world is that a person can openly give their opinion. I welcome others comments on the Toyota situation.

      01/28/2010 at 3:36 pm Reply
  2. Christy #

    ‘Tis a fine line reporting what people are talking about. There’s reporting reactions, like the neighbor who reacts to learning that his neighbor is a serial killer. There’s the opinion of someone who has experience with a thing. Which is this article doing? I’m reading this as a very emotional pitch to make the point that the general public sees this event very differently than the experts.

    Could that point have been made clearer? Sure! Heck, the story is just developing. The Detroit Free Press had a front page headline today claiming knowledge back as far as 2005. The facts are flying everywhere. This is the danger of reporting before the story fully plays out.

    Banovsky’s reaction to this article makes sense from the perspective of someone who knows a thing or two about making vehicles. But, I think he misses the point that Feder is *reporting* what others have said. As a student of current events, I find it scary that people are drawing parallels between the Toyota recall and 9/11. I didn’t once think Feder was claiming the comparison, or that it was valid.

    Heck, if I were Toyota, I’d want to know that people were drawing such scary conclusions! It’s opinions like these that will impact how Toyota recovers from this, from a business perspective.

    Oh, and I’d love to see the stats on driving being more of a health risk than smoking… I had never thought of that… time to do a little research!

    01/28/2010 at 3:43 pm Reply
  3. You really need to think about what you write before you hit the “publish” button. Not only does your poorly worded analysis add little to this debate, some of your comments may be downright libelous.

    Christy – if this is what passes for “reporting” then journalism is officially dead. There is nothing even approaching attribution for any of the claims made in the article, just the poorly worded (and legally questionable) ramblings of a rank amateur.

    01/29/2010 at 12:28 am Reply
    • Sally McCarbuyer #

      Derek, I definitely get your point about it being “ramblings” like many blogs are, but what qualifies you as the Grim Reaper of journalist integrity? Are you a published automotive writer or just a rambling “rank amateur” like your blog demonstrates? Just curious seeing as you are a bit harsh with Joel who simply “gave [his] opinion.”

      01/29/2010 at 10:51 am Reply
  4. Christy #

    Derek, I’m not defending the state of journalism. Nor am I here to get into a philosophical battle over good and evil. I’m just pointing out that we’re making much more of this than it is. I’m not even sure this blog is meant to be straight-up news reporting. It’s Joel’s blog. It’s a blog. Nothing more.

    The interesting point here is that Toyota is probably watching conversations like this, and they should. Right or wrong, people have their opinions. Joel chose to recount some of those conversations. Call it market research and work on being as good of a reporter as you can be. Let Joel be as good of a social media specialist as he can be.

    01/29/2010 at 2:07 pm Reply
  5. Sally – Yes, I have worked for the Canadian national sports broadcaster, been published in a major Men’s magazine, and currently have a column at Speed:Sport:Life. The blog is merely for my own edification. Joel gave his opinion, but also asserted some things that, accordingly to journalistic convention, must carry some kind of attribution. If this were any sort of basic reporting class, this piece of writing would fail miserably.

    Christy – Making excuses for shoddy work doesn’t advance things either. You can ignore my comments as vitriol, but the fact remains that some of the assertions made are far outside the realm of what is considered acceptable, and people should be held to account for opinions and unsubstantiated research passed off as fact. I

    01/29/2010 at 5:58 pm Reply
  6. Another Gaspedalgate post, another back aching for the lash!

    Joel (and others), I would charge you with taking the chastising in these comments and learning from it. Sure, some of the comments might have been hard to swallow. Being publicly rebuked stings even more than a bitch slap in private.

    Recall a few weeks back, during the Detroit Auto Snore, how refreshing it felt to be reporting on something different; the excitement of being there and covering the big event, but doing so from a unique perspective. To succumb to mass media-style fear mongering is a step in the wrong direction.

    Anyone can publish a speculative story replete with details of Scarlet Letter treatment and admonishment of Toyota as the Antichrist, but the core of true journalistic excellence is a well balanced perspective. You’ve got to temper the prevailing hysteria with logic and reason, and offer up substance which makes your content stand out.

    I’d comment on Derek being a poop mouth, but if his, and Banovsky’s, comments push you to improve your writing game, then I think they stand to be some of the most valuable comments you’ve ever received.

    Besides, in a couple months, Toyota will be back to selling a shit ton of new cars and dominating the market like usual. The GM c-suite is no doubt enjoying this time out of the auto industry failure spotlight. :)

    02/01/2010 at 1:01 pm Reply
    • Brian I have taken the comments to heart. You could not be more right. I was all about being different at NAIAS. Taking a step back and learning from all these comments will help me in the long run. I have taken them in stride and will use it as a learning experience. Sting as it may sometimes it is necessary to fall and learn from our mistakes. The important part is to learn from mistakes and pick ourselves back up.

      I have no doubt in my mind that while this still put the hurt on Toyota’s sales numbers in January and February they will be back and dominating soon. The question is more of a what if scenario. What if this gets people talking and they do not just stroll into that Toyota dealership for the next car. Time will tell how this all plays out.

      02/01/2010 at 1:10 pm Reply
      • Good to hear, Joel.

        If we never fail, we never learn. Everything is a learning process. Chalk it up to cognitive dissonance. Often, when we’re faced with facts that defy our beliefs, we will emotionally argue in defense of our beliefs and revel in the resulting endorphin rush.

        So often, “What if” scenarios focus on negative outcomes and, for that reason, I try to avoid them. What if these recalls cost jobs up and down the supply chain? What if GM realizes a boost in sales that speeds their recovery because of this? What if this all serves to further prove that the TV-watching American public are, for the most part, mindless sheep looking to place blame for another problem easily resolved with a little personal responsibility?

        It’s easy to stand on the sidelines and point fingers at others. Stepping into the game and offering solutions for discussion and debate requires more thought and consideration. I like that more. It’s something with which I struggle every time I click the “New Post” button. We are either part of the problem or part of the solution. Cliche, I know, but true.

        “It does not matter how slow you go, so long as you do not stop.”

        02/01/2010 at 1:45 pm Reply
  7. Christy #

    Derek, I still maintain that this is an opinion blog, and not to be relied on for what to do if you own a Toyota. Stop making this into what it isn’t. I’m not defending shoddy journalism. I’m defending the space for people to post their observations, whether we agree with them or not.

    Yes, I backed you and Banovsky up that this needs improvement. Brian’s approach was much more direct and useful. Bashing people is a long-routed way to call for improvement. Although, maybe it took your anger at Joel to give Brian the in to say what he did and get Joel to look at this as a way to improve. It would have been sad if you and I just kept battling over who’s right.

    If the Detroit Free Press had posted this, then, yes, he would have been responsible for some attribution, like who said what and when, and links to recall notices and statements from Toyota. Maybe if you were genuinely concerned that he could be sued by Toyota, these comments might have played out differently. But, just as bad journalism irkes us both, I’m more bothered by people who seem to enjoy criticising.

    02/05/2010 at 2:53 pm Reply

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