Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Why Toyota Can't Ever Be Trusted Again

I can get past Toyota's ongoing public-relations machine meltdown and half-assed apologies from its beyond obsequious president, let alone those pesky floor mats, sticky accelerator pedals and brake-system software glitches. After all, bad things happen to good cars and the world's leading automaker has built a slew of good cars, staking its reputation on quality and reliability, as well as a certain design dullness.

Besides which, the DF&C and I have had nothing but positive experiences with her 2000 Lexus RX300, which is closing in on 300,000 trouble-free miles. We have had a peerless dealer and service experience that all but guaranteed that our next vehicle would be another Lexus.

But what absolutely infuriates me is that it is now obvious that not only was Toyota well aware of some of the glitches (State Farm warned it of unintended acceleration problems way back in 2007), but it quietly -- no, make that surreptitiously -- began retrofitting newer models with problem-free hardware and software without telling the millions of drivers tooling around in defective vehicles that they might want to stop by their local dealer for a quick and inexpensive fix before they ended up crashing into a wall.

In other words, Toyota saw its problems not as challenges to be worked through but as liabilities in both legal and public relations terms. So rather than do the right thing it stonewalled federal regulators while engaging in a prolonged cover-up and quietly dropping its executive-level "Customer First" meetings because they added months to vehicle development time.

That is not just reprehensible, it's criminal.

One result is a cottage industry in class-action lawsuits, some 30 in all, to date with many more to come. And the loss of two loyal long-time customers.

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