Cynical Synapse

Tue, 02 Feb 2010

Toyota Downshifts, Grinds Gears

Filed under: Bailout, Business, Cars, Congress, Greed, Politics, Unions — cynicalsynapse @ 7:07 pm

Toyota rollover

Although, to their credit, the so-called foreign automakers were largely silent on the collapse of domestic US automakers, it seems they weren’t that far above the fray. I don’t mean this as a vindication of domestic auto manufacturers. There’s no doubt their arrogance has been part of their legacy. The Big Three have been working on quality since the 1990s and have made great strides.

It is, therefore, particularly ironic to find that Toyota sacrificed quality, resulting in a major recall action. The recall involves more than 4 million cars across 8 nameplates. This should be a significant emotional event, although the mainstream media isn’t portraying it as such. What if this had been GM, Chrysler, or Ford? They’d be all over it like stink on rice.

Brake, accelerator pedals

Unfortunately, it seems Toyota has been ducking the issue for years. Don Slavik, an attorney representing a California man, said, “I think Toyota is still scrambling to find the root causes of all the sudden acceleration that’s been reported to them.” Slavik’s client’s wife died when their 2005 Toyota Camry crashed off a cliff.

There have been hundreds of complaints about Toyotas’ sudden acceleration, however. The complaints date back at least to 2003, but NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) routinely agreed with Toyota’s data that showed no evidence of defects. Some sources claim the issue dates back to the ’90s.

Since this problem surfaced, Toyota has issued two recalls. One, for floor mats, has been greatly expanded, as has the other, for gas pedals themselves. As part of an agreement with NHTSA, Toyota is applying a software change to shut down accelerator pedals when the brake is applied.

Toyota City

Everyone seemed quite comfortable dissing domestic automakers despite increasing quality gains. Where are those folks now that Toyota is having quality problems? Long-standing ones, I might add. Toyota’s January sales were down 16%, largely due to the recalls. That just adds to the woes of a sluggish economy which is hammering Toyota City, Japan’s own motor city.

Toyota has factories in 8 different US locations. They’re represented by 5 Democratic Senators and 9 Republicans. Of those, one Republic did not vote on the domestic automaker bailout while 7 Republicans voted against saving US-based car companies. They are Richard Shelby (R-AL), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Jim Bunning (R-KY), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Kay Baily Huthison (R-TX), Thad Cochran (R-MS), and Roger Wicker (R-MS). Of these, Hutchison and Wicker voted for the Wall Street Bailout. How does that make sense? The point is half the Senators—all Republicans—from states with Toyota factories didn’t vote or voted against the domestic auto industry. Coincidence? I think not. Question is, what was their motive? Pro-Toyota? Anti-union?

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