Monday, March 08, 2010

Toyota's Troubles

In 1958, I carefully cut out pictures of all the new cars from magazines and put them in a scrapbook, grouped by manufacture, make, model, and list price. I have been a follower of the auto industry ever since.

With that in mind I decided to weigh in on the Toyota deal. I heard the media say that Toyota has a reputation for quality, safety, and reliability. That is not quite true. Those are three different and mostly unrelated qualities. BMW and Mercedes Benz are known for quality. Volvo and Volkswagen are known for safety, and Toyota and Honda have a reputation for reliability.

Of the three, reliability is the most elusive. This is partly because all cars are pretty reliably these days with little difference between manufactures. Also, there are many ways to measure reliability. If we look at the number of times we have to take the car back to the dealer in the first 90 days, we would be looking at a totally different list than if we are talking about the cost of maintaining a car with 100,000 miles on the clock. Which is most important is up to the individual and of course, as they say, your mileage may vary.

Toyota’s problem was that in trying to hold on to this precarious position, they chose the route of denial, blaming their detractors, and offering a quick fix, instead of addressing the problem.

The lesson for the rest of us is to face our challenges head on, admit when we make mistakes, and solve the problems as best we can, as quickly as possible. Toyota, in believing their own marketing, has shown that any other approach doesn’t work.