Toyotas, stones and glass houses

March 15, 2010

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Toyota continues to fight against damaging blows to its reputation for producing safe high-quality cars. But there is one good reason why it may avoid the worse type of dirty-tricks campaigns

The Toyota brand may have been damaged in the short-term. But there are reasons to suggest that the company will escape further damage of deliberate comparative campaigns on its safety record. Throughout the recent crisis months, there have been no catastrophic stories of accidents due to the infamous faulty accelerator. Claims that the electronic circuitry can be programmed to crash the car seem too much like the demonstrations that any computer programme can be hacked into.

More recently there have been further safety problems with brake issues on thePrius hybrid, and a suspension of sales of the Lexus GX 460 model, after press reports suggesting it might roll over. Yes, if you try hard enough it may well be possible to roll the Lexus under extreme conditions. Now, there’s a report that the Sienna Minivan has a dodgy cable holding its spare tyre in place.

A world-wide problem for Toyota. And all the bad news stories pile up to suggest that according to the law of the jungle now is the time for competitors to attack the wounded Japanese beast. But US carmakers, or indeed any other rival in the industry, will be cautious about overtly trying to take advantage of Toyota’s problems by insisting they offer better, safer products.

As the BBC noted:

Toyota’s luxury brand Lexus was rated the market leader in automotive consultants JD Power’s 2009 Initial Quality Study, with Toyota itself in seventh place – well above the industry average.
So while there are signs that Toyota may no longer be offering the absolute best quality, its rivals also know that any insistence that they themselves are immune from problems could backfire. After all, every major carmaker has been hit by large-scale recalls in the past. For instance:

In October 2009, Ford completed a recall affecting 14 million vehicles with potentially faulty cruise control deactivation switches. Risk: fire.
In August 2008, GM recalled some 850,000 vehicles with potentially faulty windshield wiper systems. Risk: fire.
n December 2007, Chrysler recalled some 575,000 vehicles with potential gear problems. Risk: cars could shift out of park without the ignition turned on.

So while both GM and Ford are offering additional $1,000 (£640) discounts for Toyota or Lexus drivers who buy one of their cars, neither firm has opted to change their marketing strategies and allow dealers to make direct [quality or safety] comparisons with their Japanese rival.

Stones and glass houses

As the old saying has it: people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Or…companies who share production facilities should avoid dirty-tricks ad campaigns.