Business/Finance

Grasping for salvation

toyota_talibanRemember the last year, when Big 3 executives went pleading for salvation in Washington? Of course you do, and you probably remember the Southern politicians telling them to shove it because the transplant factories of the South were the beacon of union-free automotive manufacturing. The foreign companies that own those factories were models of efficient production that could carry the weight, so send the domestics to the dustbin of Soviet Socialist history. On the other side of the political divide, liberals sang the praises of their efficient, reliable Toyotas. They cursed the domestics and beyond the bleeding of their hearts for those blue collar workers in the Rust Belt, cared little for the collapse of the domestic auto industry. Many of them cheered because the domestics make “inferior” products in any case.

Now Akio Toyoda is ready to commit seppuku because Toyota is on the brink of “capitulation to irrelevance or death”. That would explain why it still wants the millions promised to it by the state of California early this year for training workers, even after it pulled out of the NUMMI plant that will put close to 5,000 workers on unemployment.

Mr. Toyoda believes that the company his grandfather founded has already passed through the first three stages of corporate decline: hubris born of success, undisciplined pursuit of more, and denial of risk and peril. Shit, just who learned what from the NUMMI project?

Watch out Senators from the Kudzustans, it looks like you hitched your wagons to the new GM after all.

I should be a big fan of Toyota. I drive one that’s provided 23 years of service. Then again, my Toyota is one of the models that the company built its reputation on rather than the product they produce now, which merely trades on that reputation.

Once upon a time, Toyota made relatively simple vehicles built to warlord grade specifications. Today, they build bloated appliances, lacking any sort of character, full of cupholders and useless crap. Their current flagship, the Prius, is a far cry from the ad campaign’s claim of “harmony between man, machine and nature”. It weighs in at 3000 lbs and looks like an obese American stuffed into spandex. For comparison, my truck tips the scales at 3500 lbs, but my truck is made of nothing but steel and designed to be indestructible.

The Prius gets worse mileage and emits more CO2 than a Euro-spec, diesel Fiesta. And to achieve those sub-optimal numbers requires two complete drive trains and their associated manufacturing costs. Toyota could replace the gasoline engine in the Prius with a diesel and watch the mpg numbers rocket; they could design that diesel to run on 50% recycled vegetable oil. The gasoline engine could be tuned to run on propane/LNG so that the Prius would be basically zero-emissions. Instead, they got the vehicle reclassified as mid-sized so that it’s reputation doesn’t have to compete with smaller, more efficient vehicles.

Never mind the floor mats of death. Go to a Toyota dealership and look around. Not only will you see a lineup populated by bloated trucks, SUV’s and crossovers (which should be called “fat wagons”) that put to rest the popular meme that Toyota makes mostly fuel efficient vehicles, you’ll also see and feel a level of plastic cheapness and cut corners in assembly that gives any American make a run for its money.

So to Mr. Toyoda i will suggest looking backwards to find the future of his family’s once great company.

Quit trying to foist cheap plastic crap and Prii on me and start building vehicles like this again and i will think about buying a Toyota.

Part two, which is every bit as dastardly as part one, can be seen here.

12 replies »

  1. There was a point when Toyota decided to smooth out the curves on the Land Cruiser in order to “feminize” it – ie make it more attractive to soccer moms. Gack.

    I put my parent’s 1984 Land Cruiser wagon in a 12 foot ditch at 45 MPH after driving over a barbed-wire fence and flattening the iron fence posts. The front end was totaled, and repair cost ~$5,000 (excluding the new tires that I replaced out of my summer job income the next summer), if I remember correctly. I remember my dad worrying about whether the energy of the impact was enough to bend the frame. The bodyshop owner running the estimate for insurance told my dad that he’d never seen a Land Cruiser with a bent frame, even on vehicles that were later totaled because repairing everything else cost more than just replacing the vehicle.

    I would still drive a Toyota, and did until a few years ago when my Corolla got totaled (sniff) in a smashup during my commute to work. The only reason I didn’t get another Corolla when I went looking again was because Honda had come out with an updated Civic model that could actually accelerate, which it couldn’t when I initially bought the Corolla.

    The point of all this is that I think that Toyotas are still great vehicles, even if they’re not as tough as they used to be. Alas, most other car manufacturers have sunk further faster, leaving Toyotas as some of the best cars out there.

    No-one makes my ideal car, though – a clean diesel powered plug-in hybrid all-wheel drive sedan. Notice to car manufacturers (esp Toyota, Subaru, & Volkswagon) – the first company to make the above described vehicle probably gets at least one sale!

  2. In the second video i linked to, the Top Gear guys managed to break the frame of the Hilux…but it required strapping it to the top of a 13 story apartment block that was blown up and rolling the poor Yoda down the debris pile. The bed and boxsides managed to hold the truck together well enough to drive it away.

    Sure, Toyota still makes serviceable vehicles, but the build quality and longevity isn’t much – if any – better than their competitors. They set out to conquer the US market, but it conquered them instead. They don’t make anything that stands above the competition, and for god’s sake they participate in NASCAR.

    Rumor has it that VW is going to build a TDI-hybrid Golf. I think that the future will look like Volt, but hopefully with a diesel generator instead of gasoline.

  3. Good stuff, eh? Top Gear is far and away the best automotive television ever. Their road test of the new Ford Fiesta is the pinnacle of television automotive journalism.

    It should be noted that submerging one’s truck in the sea for several hours and making it run again is only possible with a diesel engine.

    • Salt water is about the nastiest thing you can submerge electronics in, so the spark plugs and wiring to fire a gasoline engine would be toast.

      Even with a gasoline engine, I’m amazed it ran after that.

  4. Any intake of water into the combustion chamber of a gasoline engine pretty much ruins it; hence the snorkels fitted to serious off-road vehicles. Though the worst effects of hydrolocking happen if the engine is submerged and shut off.

    Since diesel is compression fired, all you have to do is remove the water from the cylinder. It helps too that the glow plugs are simply heated and the firing order runs mechanically instead of through the ignition system. How the electronics managed to remain functional on that Hilux is amazing, and even in vehicles as old (or older) than that Yoda, there’s a fair amount of electric stuff.

  5. Yeah, Farley, i saw that. It’s amazing that they’re having the problem again after having bought back thousands of Tacomas for 150% of KBB for the same issue. What’s even more amazing is that while the body of my 23 year old pickup is in a losing battle with the rust goblins, the frame is solid.

    Did you see that the “solution” to the floor mat problem is zip-tying them to the seat frame? And Toyota will be back in court for patent infringement on the hybrid control system.

    • I’m not sure that, even if Toyota is infringing, they should have to pay anything. Just having a patentable idea doesn’t mean you’re automatically entitled to make money from the idea. And from what I’ve read, the company holding the patent never even tried to make money from it.

      I have no patience for patent trolls who make money by litigating against companies who invest the time and money to make a real product.

  6. Toyota already pays $100/vehicle; the issue, iiuc, is that the same technology is being used without paying license on newer vehicles. I agree with you, Brian, but Toyota’s hybrid system wouldn’t work without the technology in question. To make money on the technology would require building hybrid cars. And i believe that Toyota charges licensing fees to other corporations who use the same hybrid system as Toyota.

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