Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Toyota Backwards Is Still A Toyota

Some of the most memorable moments in my life have happened inside of a car. There was the time I trekked to Tulsa to see Morrissey, the time I was t-boned by a drunk driver (at 2p), and the time I ate five Arby melts in one sitting. All of these happened in my Toyota.

I associate most of the pleasures of the open road with the pleasures of driving a reliable vehicle. Yes, I've been in a handful of accidents, but none of them were my fault (really), and yes I've had to change my brakes and fix my alignment, but over 150,000 miles stretched across five years, my Toyota has never betrayed me. I don't think I'd like driving so much if I had the ill-fortune of buying an American car (yes, our family has one, and we've poured enough money into it over five years to purchase a tank).


When I was 17, my parents bought me a pint-size single-cab Toyota Tacoma. I was chastised by close friends and siblings for picking the whitest vehicle in my racial class, and for trying to impress girls that I need not try to impress. Both of these accusations were wildly inaccurate, because my truck was equipped with a Corolla engine and looked like it belonged to a Tier-1 gardener; only good for one kind of pick-up.

Despite the sheer microscopic look of my truck, it only took me a few weeks to fall in love. Nothing handles quite like a Toyota. It's got a beautiful turn radius, can catch quick speeds without shaking violently, and burns fuel prudently.

After five years of solid driving and cross-country treks, I got into two car accidents in 12 hours and totaled the Tacoma. The first accident happened in the morning, when a lady peeped out of an alley to make a right, didn't see me, and we crashed. The damage was negligible, but what I didn't see was that the impact loosened my truck's hood.

Later that evening, on the 57S, the hood finally detached, flew backwards and slammed against my windshield, sending a few shards of glass into my hands and creating a blinding web--I nearly spun out and crashed on the freeway, but managed to pull over and call the police. At that point, my truck was five years old, had 102,000 miles, and already sported bangs and bruises and a busted fender. The insurance called it a total loss, because the damage was too immense, but, after settling all claims, my truck was still valued at $9,400. I bought it for $12,000. It was then when i realized then that there's nothing more magical (and safer) than a Toyota.

With a wad of cash in my hand and some remorse for Tacoma in my heart, I thought nothing could be a worthy replacement. The first place I decided to look for a new vehicle was the Toyota dealership. I knew it would be the closest thing to a substitute. After some passive searching, I decided on a used, low-mileage Corolla (the stylish girly spoiler edition). I've already driven 25,000 miles in the 9 months I've owned it, and it's a reliable beast that gets me 36 miles per gallon. I'm also happy to say that it's fast becoming a worthy successor to the truck.


I get the severity of the current Toyota recall. Some of their vehicles do have major issues, be it a freewheeling gas pedal or misfit floor mat. But what's really irked me is the mountainous levels of criticism the media has leveled against Toyota in the last few weeks. So let's get some facts straight.

First, the Toyota recall is not the biggest recall in American history. Of the ten biggest vehicle recalls in this country, eight are from Ford or GM (the other two: Honda, VW). Topping this list is Ford. In 2008, they recalled 5 million vehicles (SUVs, pickups, cars, and vans modeled between 1993 and 2004) for a faulty cruise-control switch that would spontaneously catch fire, sometimes even hours after the car was parked and turned off. The recall continues to this day. Put in this context, Toyota ranks 6th.

Second, Edmunds.com managed to put customer satisfaction in context. While the Toyota recall has definitely increased complaints about the Japanese automaker, in the last decade, Toyota ranked 17th in customer complaints, behind nearly every other car manufacturer in the world. As Edmunds puts it:
Toyota was the subject of 9.1 percent of the complaints from 2001 through 2010 (through February 3). During this period, the company sold 13.5 percent of all new cars in the United States.
Third, Car & Driver Magazine has eloquently fired off some resentment for the "media circus" surrounding Toyota, and laid out some basic stats about just how "dangerous" this recall is:

We're no Toyota apologists, but if you look past the media circus, the numbers don't reveal a meaningful problem. Every man, woman, and child in the U.S. has approximately a one-in-8000 chance of perishing in a car accident every year. Over a decade, that's about one in 800. Given the millions of cars included in the Toyota recalls and the fewer than 20 alleged deaths over the past decade, the alleged fatality rate is about one death per 200,000 recalled Toyotas. Even if all the alleged deaths really are resultant from vehicle defects—highly unlikely—and even if all the worst things people are speculating about Toyotas are true, and you're driving one, and you aren't smart or calm enough to shift to neutral if the thing surges, you're still approximately 250 times likelier to die in one of these cars for reasons having nothing to do with unintended acceleration. So if you can muster the courage to get into a car and drive, the additional alleged risk of driving a Toyota is virtually negligible.

Yes, rankings only reveal so much of the story, and I agree that Toyota's recall, while not the largest, is definitely immense insofar as the scar it'll leave on its brand for years to come. But honestly, where was the insane media coverage when Fords were catching on fire or 3.6 million GM trucks had dangerous tailgates?

I'm confident that for every story of a driver lamenting that their Corolla accelerates on its own (hint: put it in neutral), there are dozens of stories of happy drivers like myself who can attest to the sheer brilliance and beauty of a Toyota.


オテモヤン said...
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akm said...

What do you make of this report that Toyota boasted about how much money they saved by buying off Washington to push back a recall for quite some time: http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2010/02/21/business/AP-US-ToyotaRecall.html
Also, from what I understand of the quick acceleration problem, shifting into neutral often didn't help those whose brakes locked (which Toyota first tried to say was a floormat problem not a car computer problem!). It's all well and good to say that people should keep their cool, but people whose occupational training it was to keep cool have been killed in Toyotas (for example the cop who died with his wife in a suddenly accelerating Toyota, in, I believe, San Diego).
I understand your nostalgia, but I am confused as to how it turned in to brand loyalty. Keep the memories, but throw Toyota under the bus. They wouldn't think twice before doing it to you.