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Stealing Fire From the Gods

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Posted on Feb 5, 2010
Flickr / lucamascaro

By Eugene Robinson

A friend of mine once had a Toyota that wouldn’t die. The odometer had only a dim recollection of passing 100,000 miles, the body was dinged and the paint was faded and the interior was worn, but the thing just kept running. He finally parked it at the airport, removed the plates and walked away. 

But that was more than 20 years ago, long before Toyota became the world’s biggest car manufacturer. Now the gas pedal doesn’t work right on some of the company’s models and the brakes don’t work right on others. A brand name that once meant “indestructible” has become a punch line for late-night jokes.

The company’s stock has lost 20 percent of its value over the last few weeks, helped along Wednesday by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s warning that the U.S. owners of nearly 6 million Toyota and Lexus models with the potential accelerator problem shouldn’t even try to drive the cars. LaHood quickly withdrew his doomsday alert, explaining that all he meant to say was that people shouldn’t delay in seeking repairs. Not what I’d call a message of reassurance.

The obvious lesson for Toyota: Be careful what you wish for. Toyota set out to conquer the world. In succeeding, the company grew so fast that its vaunted mastery of quality control—the craftsmanship and care that made people want to buy a Toyota in the first place—couldn’t keep up.

For years, Toyota dominated the rankings for both initial quality and reliability. But the company’s models had begun to slip well before the current public relations disaster.

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I think this is more than a retelling of the story of Icarus, who flew too close to the sun. It also may be a Promethean tale of punishment for having stolen fire from the gods.

Toyota is not the only thief. Last week, I dropped by the annual Washington Auto Show, which is much like the extravaganza in Detroit, only smaller. I wanted to get a sense of whether the rumors of a U.S. automaking renaissance might be true—and indeed, both Ford and General Motors put on impressive displays.

There was lots of excitement about the not-quite-here-yet Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid that will run almost exclusively on electricity—but there was also a buzz about the Nissan Leaf, an all-electric hatchback that will make it to the showrooms first. Ford’s array of state-of-the-art automotive engineering was impressive—the Fusion, the Escape—but there were bigger crowds checking out the wares of the South Korean manufacturers, especially Hyundai. The Koreans are doing what the Japanese once did—offering more features for less money—and they seem to have solved the quality-control problems that once plagued both Hyundai and Kia. For the next decade, they are my candidate to eat everybody else’s lunch.

But back to Prometheus: No matter what company from what country, when you looked under the hood you didn’t see a carburetor. Nor did you see an air cleaner, a distributor or any of the other parts that backyard mechanics of a certain age will fondly remember.

Automobiles used to be mechanical devices. Now they are collections of mechanical parts that are told what to do by computers. In most cars, the gearshift, pedals and steering wheel are nothing more than proxies for electronic controls. When something goes wrong with a car, you don’t start by opening the hood and unbolting pieces from the engine one at a time, the way we used to. You plug in a reader device and ask the vehicle what its problem is.

Technology has made automobiles much safer, more efficient and less damaging to the environment. But a computer is only as good as its software. Some experts believe that Toyota’s acceleration problems may actually be caused by faulty programming, not a faulty pedal. And the brakes on the Prius, which are used not just to stop the car but also to recharge the hybrid’s battery, have already undergone one software rewrite, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Toyota’s competitors should go easy on the gloating. Their cars are fly-by-wire, too, and thus equally at the mercy of information-age technology—the fire we purloined from Olympus. Raise your hand if you think it’s a great idea to make our cars precisely as dependable and problem-free as, gulp, our personal computers.
   
Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)washpost.com.
   
© 2010, Washington Post Writers Group


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Leefeller's avatar

By Leefeller, February 11, 2010 at 7:53 am Link to this comment

My dad sounds in some ways just like Tom Edgers mother in law, spiteful treats people like dirt.  He would make Christmas dinners a living hell as my sister could also, (lucky he is really my step dad).

As for inheritance, as to who will be in the will, it will most probably not be I, anyway my dad is sort of like Edgers new Ford, I will most likely not be around to see him go into a ditch!

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By Tom Edgar, February 11, 2010 at 1:03 am Link to this comment

Inherit the wind…

On an atheist site one of my friendlier contributors said.
First up I married a Lutheran and it lasted two years.
The I married a Presbyterian and she walked out after three.

Being an atheist I put it down to their religion but then one of them told me that it had nothing to do with me being an atheist it was that I was just an asshole.

For all that I sympathise. I had a Mother in law to beat all yours. Even my wife, the elder daughter didn’t like her. Her son, and a younger daughter either.  To be really spiteful she lived to 94 yrs.
When my brother in law was asked what helped her live so long, he said. “Do nothing, sponge off your kids, treat them like dirt, and only think of yourself.” That was AT her funeral.
Only one person ever stood up to her, and actually had her frightened. I take garbage from no one.
Guess who was NOT in the will. If we had been a beneficiary my wife would have sent it elsewhere.

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By Joe, February 11, 2010 at 12:14 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Computer programming need to be looked at and who provided the software. Was it done by other subsidiary company. Then also i heard some news that Japan was considering the WW2 pact and wanted all US bases out of their country. Politics and economy are brothers in arms.

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By Inherit The Wind, February 9, 2010 at 8:50 pm Link to this comment

It’s “Yugo” in America or “Jugo” in Europe.  I’m cursed in my choice of sisters-in-law.  I chose ALL the worst ones! The ONLY one I could stand divorced my brother-in-law (not that I blame her but how she did it sucked), and her replacement is an imp from Hell.  But another ex-SIL is the worst of the bunch! The BEST of them has only TWO THINGS going for her—1: my brother, for some unknown reason, loves her 2: She’s very kind and nice to me—SHE REFUSES TO TALK TO ME! and for that I’m grateful—better than the alternative.

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By Tom Edgar, February 8, 2010 at 3:34 pm Link to this comment

Don’t be so nasty to your sister in aw old fellow.  She is probably a bitch because she is jealous of her sister’s acquisition.

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Leefeller's avatar

By Leefeller, February 8, 2010 at 8:59 am Link to this comment

Am I the only one who reflects on the movie “Drowning Mona”? Everyone hated Mona and it seems half the town sabotaged her car so her breaks failed and she ended up in the lake. Poor Mona, one of my favorite movies she was quite the bitch, very close personality to my sister in law.

Seems like Toyota has gone beyond “Drowning Mona” with the throttle sticking and the brakes failing, one cannot ask for more, except maybe the wheels falling off just before the crash.

Though in the movie, Mona’s car was a Yougo? Not sure of the spelling!

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By Elmerd, February 8, 2010 at 3:50 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I feel there is one recent GM car that’s been overlooked, the Chevy Cavalier. I saw how they cheapened up on it during it’s run (to replace it with the Cobalt). They actually were VERY reliable and economical- which is probably why GM kicked them aside. I built mine from wrecked cars for $400—and now have over 250,000 on it.They are easy to fix also- but rarely need it. I built a spare since this may have been the best overall car GM ever made. An access hole for the fuel pump would’ve been nice- I cut one in to find out my tank was simply empty- (the baffle had broken and wedged the fuel sender).DOH!

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By Tom Edgar, February 7, 2010 at 10:14 pm Link to this comment

I started my mechanical apprenticeship early in WW2. Our Trucks/cars invariably needed a major engine job at 30/40,000 miles. Rebore, oversize pistons, even a crankshaft grind, add the decoke and valve grind, which often enough had been already done at fifteen thousand,  Lousy fuel then. Radiators, oh yes often enough braze the rusted shells. Ignition timing? No problem, there was that little quadrant on the steering column.  Retard to start, or on hills to stop the pinking. cars like Rolls Royce knew that burnt out coils and coked up points were a problem so they fitted both coil and magneto, the latter being more reliable even if the spark wasn’t as powerful. Air conditioning on every vehicle, open the window.You developed a very powerful set of leg muscles as there was no hydraulically operated clutch, and the brakes were via push rods to undersized drums. Oh yes change the oil at 1,000 miles and don’t forget to clean the spark plugs at the same time, and re-new them at the latest of 5,000 miles. Those old cars and trucks had a lot of character, not much else. Yep! a good backyard mechanic could easily fix them, but then so often they needed it.

Previously I referred to my Mazda and mentioned we had totalled it at 380,000 km my son has corrected me it was 480,000km or about 300,000 miles(Imperial).  The engine had never been touched.  I’ve replaced it with a near new Ford Courier Pick Up.  Sure love having comfortable seats, air conditioning, a glove box that accepts more than a pair of gloves, and pockets everywhere, power steering,so many other things. Doesn’t have the character of a 1939 Chev. Nor the problems. The negative is that I’m sure it won’t last twenty years or more, but as I am in my eighties I look at the positive too.  Neither will I.

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By Inherit The Wind, February 7, 2010 at 9:03 pm Link to this comment

Paolo:
I think both you and John Ellis are full of it.

Computerization can EASILY make mechanical devices simpler and more reliable.

Take a zig-zag sewing machine.  The basic zig-zag is achieved by pushing the needle bar to the right while the needle is out of the material so it comes down in a different line.  Traditionally, patterns were achieved by a cam shaft with a cam follower. To create automatic button-holes and stretch stitches, a similar mechanism was added to the feed dog to make it go backwards and forwards different amounts.  The cams and cam-followers were intricate mechanisms with lots of levers, and places for joints to gum up and for the followers to get off on lint, or out of adjustment.

But with computerization, all you need is a simple solenoid activated by the computer.  The software tells the solenoid when and how much to pull the needle bar and when to put the feed dog in reverse and how much.  Simple solenoids controlled by computer—FAR less moving parts to do the same job—and capable of FAR more complicated designs.  But harder for technicians to repair.

Virtually all precision machine tools today are controlled by CNC, not by the slow, painstaking, error-prone methods of the past, where tool and die makers relied on ALL their skills to make prototype parts and then design procedures where tool operators could reliably make the parts.  I watched my dad, an old-time T&D maker learn the new CNC machines and he was just FASCINATED by them, having learned old-time hand-fitting with files, emery paper and go/no-go gauges.

It’s not that the new systems are “complicated”—it’s that they are very different and required different skills and tools because to do what they do mechanically, would mean engines were GIGANTIC and less powerful.  The most sophisticated fighter-jets, particularly the Stealth fighters and bombers simply cannot do their job AT ALL without computerization.

It’s all about bad programming, period.

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By munirardi, February 7, 2010 at 7:36 pm Link to this comment

in my country Indonesia toyota also mastering the market, it’s cheaper with the high quality

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By Tom Edgar, February 7, 2010 at 4:54 pm Link to this comment

I bought a Mazda B2200 Pick up in 1981.  Changed the glow plugs twice (The Japanese plugs were superior to the German) The rear brake lining once. Oh! I nearly forgot the lights and radiator along with fender,and hood, that was from hitting a six foot six inch kangaroo

Last year,with 380,000km on the clock, still looking good externally,admittedly in all other areas she was in sad need of retirement, but with 27 years of good solid farm work and some distance travelling, my son dropped it into a ditch and wrote it off.

I’ve replaced it with a good as new Ford Courier.
Oh Boy How I love those comfortable seats, air conditioning, power steering, along with a glove box that holds more than a pair of gloves, with pockets in the doors and all the modern doodads.  I miss the old diesel engine braking and low down torque (one of the reasons why brake linings last.) I also miss the diesel’s comparative frugal thirst. I very much doubt if the Ford will be around in twenty years from now.
I’ll look on the bright side, at 83 years neither will I.

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By John, February 7, 2010 at 2:02 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It will take years to build back consumer confidence, but I think Toyota will come out a much stronger automotive manufacturing powerhouse because of this.

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By Nap, February 7, 2010 at 1:35 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This Toyota time all the time, I don’t see it as car problem. Seems like pressure on corporate Japan for more complaint position on military base negotiations which are absent from the headlines.

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By johannes, February 7, 2010 at 8:09 am Link to this comment

To Poalo,

Don’t forget the special plug to contact the computer for your technical faults, they are not exchangeble, so you are hooked.

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Paolo's avatar

By Paolo, February 7, 2010 at 7:05 am Link to this comment

The REAL problem with cars since about 1980 is that they are deliberately designed to be unrepairable by common folks.

I used to have no problem doing simple repairs, like changing out a starter motor, radiator, or alternator. I have not seen a model of any manufacturer recently where these simple processes are not made unbelievably, unnecessarily complicated. This is deliberate; car dealers make at least as much off of repairs as they do with the initial sale.

As far as electronics goes, I don’t have any problems with electronics that merely IDENTIFY problems. But when you rely on computer chips to actually RUN THE VEHICLE, you are asking for trouble.

Any decent engineer could easily design a car to be easy to work on. But their mission is the exact opposite: they make simple repairs as complicated as possible.

This goes all the way back to the 1960’s, when car manufacturers started replacing executive officers who were car-lovers and gear-heads, with jerks from MBA schools who came up with the brilliant realization that there was money to be made in making cars un-repairable for the average American.

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By NZDoug, February 7, 2010 at 12:58 am Link to this comment

I think the whole Toyota thing is a bit of a media build up as its a nice change to
discuss something other than the demise of America in some shape or form.
Big deal out of nothing.
Its lonely at the top.

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Blackspeare's avatar

By Blackspeare, February 6, 2010 at 3:24 pm Link to this comment

Talking about abandoning a car.  Not too long my daughter had leased a car and when it came time to turn it in it needed several thousands dollars of body repairs——what to do?  I told her to leave the car parked in a not so nice part of town and take a week’s vacation for cover.  After reporting a car stolen after a week’s time means it’s either been stripped or sent out of country.  They did find the car, but it was totaled.  She got the insurance money which she gave to the leasing agent and maybe lost a couple of hundred in the transaction rather than thousands——that GEICO gecko isn’t so bad!

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By johannes, February 6, 2010 at 12:33 pm Link to this comment

To Inherit the wind,

I don’t know , wath was the nicest, I had one uncle who drove an Studybaker Golden Hawk, black red interieur, but he was blowing up his gearbox all the time, whyle he accelerated like jet.
Wath was al so an beauty, the Chrysler New Yorker some where in the sixties I think.

Nostalgic, but we have to go on.

Salutation.

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By jackpine savage, February 6, 2010 at 10:38 am Link to this comment

PSmith, i’m not sure what you’re getting at with the SUV link. Most of Toyota’s actual profit comes from selling SUV’s just like the American manufactures and a Toyota SUV is just as likely to roll over as an American SUV. They are, quite simply, stupid vehicles that spit in Newton’s face (never a good idea).

To all, the incest of the automotive world is astounding so the lines between American, European and Japanese (or Korean) are blurred. The supply chain is no longer controlled by the individual companies. Those Toyota pedals are in other makes and models too. Or take the example of the Toyota Matrix, you could (before Pontiac died) buy the exact same car with a Pontiac badge, the Vibe. Same engineers, same line…which is going to be more reliable?

Really, people, look into it. Toyota’s been having problems for quite some time. Oil sludge anyone? And their cars are as bloated and inefficient as the Americans’ it’s just that they parade the Prius around (giant dose of bloated greenwashing that it is).

The biggest reason that small, American cars have traditionally been underpowered and woeful is that Americans like soft suspensions and hate manual transmissions. An automatic will almost never (without serious abuse) allow you to reach the powerband of a four cylinder engine.

Everyone’s mileage has gone down in American lineups, partly because everything is obese…which is partly due to safety regulations and trying to keep people from being killed by SUV’s. Did you know that to sell the new Fiesta in the States, Ford had to rejigger the dashboard to prevent deaths of passengers not wearing a seatbelt? Wearing a seatbelt is required by law, but the manufacturers have to build cars to protect people who don’t wear the belt.

In Europe you actually have to prove some competency to earn a license. I’d rather have that than the morbidly obese safety appliances of the US auto market. But i’d rather drive a wagon than an SUV too, so i’m clearly unAmerican. 

ITW, this isn’t the first time GM’s gone underwater and had to be bailed out.

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By Inherit The Wind, February 6, 2010 at 10:26 am Link to this comment

Johannes:

To my mind there was NEVER a more beautiful car than a 1967 red Pontiac GTO convertible, preferably with a white top and interior, but almost as fine with a black top and interior.  Big, powerful, wide, and easy to work on.

But remember: I said the last 40 years and that’s now 1970, not the 60’s when Detroit hit its zenith—and have gone downhill ever since.  Even Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino” was at the beginning of the end.  When Pontiac tried to introduce a “new” GTO a few years ago it was ugly, boring and a POS.  “What were they THINKING?” is what went through the minds of GTO lovers.

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By johannes, February 6, 2010 at 8:07 am Link to this comment

@ Inherit the wind, its an other way of looking to this American problem, maby you are right, all I know that when I was young my famelie had nice American cars, with the very melodious V8 engine, maby I am to nostalgic.

Now I am driving ” thats not the good word ” move in my small Audi A2, for the same price and maby more as in the 60 ies in our big Chevrolet.

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By Inherit The Wind, February 6, 2010 at 5:44 am Link to this comment

Johannes:
As usual you understand NOTHING. It’s not shitting in our nest to attack American auto makers for 40 years of doing EVERYTHING POSSIBLE to avoid building safe and reliable cars.  That’s what they have done.  When the Oil Crisis came in 1973 and 1974, did they re-orient themselves to build TRULY energy-efficient vehicles?  No!  They made a few small-engined crappy cars but went right on making Cadillacs and Lincolns and giant pickups that barely got 10 miles per gallon.

Did they make safer cars?  No! To this DAY if you buy a Corvette, the “hot” sports car, you risk being killed if it rolls over.  And the Corvette Convertible? It neither has a roll bar (either fixed or deployable) nor does it have a reinforced windshield.  Roll and you are dead.  Mercedes, Volvo, BMW, Saab, Audi, Porsche ALL have that rollover protection, even in rag-tops that cost no more than a ‘Vette.

A Corvette—STILL a push-rod V-8.  Chevy could get 50% more power from the same displacement by going to DOHC with adjustable valves, yet the ‘Vette STILL has 60’s technology for its valve train.

Yet the Corvette is the symbol of Detroit’s slickest, fastest, sexiest and, therefore, most advanced car.

Funny, the Dodge Viper is a better sports car, but never really caught on.  Must be the rag-top that rips off the car at 120mph.  Or the A/C that never works. Or the cheap, flimsy plastic controls in a $75,000 car.  Yet, until recently when the Z vette got faster, the Viper was faster and ALWAYS out-handled the ‘Vette.

Detroit didn’t respond to the challenges of energy, pollution, foreign reliability and competition by building better vehicles.  They responded with lobbies, lawsuits, advertising, and discounting fleets of crappy cars to rental companies to HIDE the fact that AMERICAN consumers were buying AWAY from Detroit.

Our last two American cars were a Mercury Mountaineer and a Ford Explorer.  The Mountaineer was a lease we took the first year it came out—1997.  Nobody knew it was a clone of the popular Explorer at the time so we got a GREAT deal on the lease. While the seats were uncomfortable, it was a great car, the ONLY car we ever had that didn’t need one single warranty repair in 3 years—NOT ONE! 

But the warranty ran out after 36 months so we let it go and replaced it with SUPPOSEDLY the same car updated: A 2000 Explorer.  What a POS that SUV was! Despite the same engine, it had NO power, burned gas, and ran rough. Ford claimed there was NOTHING wrong with the engine and it was “fine” despite repeated shop visits.  Then power steering and A/C problems happened and had to be fixed, the Firestone (!) tires had to be replaced (the Pirellis that went on instead were safe but NEVER handled as well and were noisy).  It was a continual source of problems until we finally got rid of it.

Johannes: If American car companies build overweight, gas-guzzling, unreliable, uncomfortable pieces of shit, why should we Americans STILL spend our hard-earned money on them?  And, when we didn’t, and the same companies did NOT learn why we stopped buying and did NOT adapt to what WE wanted, why should WE care if they must pay the price of it?

GM went bankrupt because of 40 solid years of insanely stupid mis-management.  It took THAT LONG to kill what had been a GREAT company.  Chrysler has been struggling,too, all that time, and HAS been bailed-out several times before, once by the US government, once by Renault—which backed away, and once by Daimler—which also cut its ties to Chrysler.

Only Ford has managed to get around being bailed out, but only barely.

What is PATRIOTIC is to DEMAND that Detroit actually build GOOD, RELIABLE cars.  I recently had a loaner of a Chevy HHR.  It was simply the WORST car I had ever ridden in or driven, including the old Citroen Canard (and the Renault cheapie equivalent).  How ANYONE could have designed this with a straight face was beyond me.

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By johannes, February 6, 2010 at 3:09 am Link to this comment

I can not understand all American citizen on this site, who with the greatest plesure are “shiting in their own nest”, if you like them so much go an live there with this humble bowing Jap’anees.

They have started the work ” the hollowing out of the American industries” and the Chinees are now finishing this.

The Japanees and the Chinees hate us, the plesure is to kill us economicaly, and afther that ?

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By Lunaclara, February 6, 2010 at 12:17 am Link to this comment

“Raise your hand if you think it’s a great idea to make our cars precisely as dependable and problem-free as, gulp, our personal computers.”

This is sarcasm.

Mr. Robinson says it’s a bad idea for any car maker to rely on computers so much - not just Toyotas.

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By jackpine savage, February 5, 2010 at 10:57 pm Link to this comment

The reason for older Japanese cars being memorably reliable are fairly simple. Most of those old Japanese cars were fairly simple; they were also carefully designed so that they could be repaired. (When Toyota started putting the V6 in trucks, it realized that the oil filter was almost inaccessible, so it put a little door inside the passenger-side wheel well that you could access the filter through.) There was great engineering too. Toyota’s 22R is almost unkillable.

But if you want 17 airbags, a ride like your living room, power doo dads for everything and climate controlled cup holders then you’re not going to achieve reliability through keeping it simple.

I drive a very low mile (180,600ish) 1987 Toyota Pickup…still a Hilux without the badge. It’s from the time when Toyota still made warlord grade vehicles. I love, but you couldn’t pay me to drive a Toyota made after 1994ish. There are now multiple generations of multiple models of Toyota trucks that the frames will rot if they so much as get near salt. (Toyota bought the Tacomas back at above KBB to keep it quiet.) I can understand bedsides rusting away, but frames shows a lack of concern for fundamental quality.

As others have said, modern Toyotas are ugly. They’re not particularly fuel efficient, and less so than their ancestors. And there is no feeling when you shut the door that the car was designed and built to survive the apocalypse.

Then again, the Japanese build and sell the worst of their lineups in and for the US market. Same with the Europeans to some degree. We’ve got the crappiest, ugliest, most useless cars on the planet. But we have them because that’s what we want.

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By Potent_Placebo, February 5, 2010 at 10:46 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

What goes around comes around.  It will only be a
matter of a decade or so that China and India will be
cleaning everybody’s clock in the auto industry.  Same
thing happened with Japanese cars back in the 60s to
70s.  The quality will take a little time to evolve but
half price quality cars are on the horizon.

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G.Anderson's avatar

By G.Anderson, February 5, 2010 at 10:43 pm Link to this comment

Actually the news has been filled with day after day of anti Toyota stories, along with stories about how the quality of American Cars has been steadily improving over the years.

Even disguised as real news, this reeks of corporate propaganda, much like news stories about how the economy is improving and people are going back to work.

All one has to do is look at the Sad remainder of the US Auto industry to understand what the end result of B.S. is.

Desperation is easy to smell. And this really smells.

For years the Auto industry relied on B.S. and bribes to congress, to avoid having to compete. The same thing is happening to our corporations, and that’s why their collapsing now.

My bet is that Toyota will still be around when GM is only a memory and a big bill to the Taxpayer.

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By Inherit The Wind, February 5, 2010 at 9:00 pm Link to this comment

When Ford Pintos had exploding gas tanks, did Ford recall them?  Did the CEO of Ford humble himself and offer a public apology? No.  Instead Ford filed lawsuits to stop investigations, contributed to political candidates who were “for” Corporate America and against “greedy trial lawyers”.

When Audi had virtually the SAME gas pedal problem did Audi recall their cars and apologize?  No, they hired the best damn lawyers in the US and paid them boo-coo to FIGHT and “win” what should have been an open-and-shut case.

Only an Asian car company, and not all of them could do what Toyota has done.  Not Suzuki—they sued Consumer Reports (and lost) for calling their car unsafe.

Sadly, and I hate to say this, the Asian companies have had MORE problems since they opened American plants. My Smyrna, Tenn Nissan truck needed a transfer case after less than 20,000 miles.  My current 6 year old Tundra has needed brake work and other fairly substantive warranty repairs—and it doesn’t have a lot of miles either.

GM and Chrysler STILL make shittier cars than Toyota, even WITH these problems.  That’s a fact that has not changed. As far down as Toyota and Nissan have come, they STILL are better than at least two of the 3 Detroiters.

And, up until recently, Ford wasn’t much better.

American cars flat-out suck.  They just do, and they have since the mid-70’s.

Toyota will fix its problems. It always has, and it will again, regardless of cost.  Detroit would spend the money on lobbying, lawyers, advertising and distraction, but not much on FIXING the problem.

After over 40 years of watching Detroit, I am confident of their lack of faith.

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By stoptheviolins, February 5, 2010 at 8:54 pm Link to this comment

Are we surprised that the age of the major automotive software screwup has dawned? It’s happening now because the systems complexity of cars has risen to where an expectation of complete software reliability is naive. Naturally it turns up first in the best-selling brand, but it’s coming to all the others, domestic and foreign.  No place to hide.

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By Jim, February 5, 2010 at 6:29 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I had a carburated Yota that died on me last week. RIP Old Red. I enjoyed messing with the bolts and hoses, ultimately being responsible for keeping the car going. I hate the idea of relying on an increasingly specialized troop of mechanics. Having less “hands on” task certainly doesn’t maintain an ideal level of self-worth.

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By SuGee, February 5, 2010 at 3:09 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Re: these comments:

Nonya wrote"Aercian corporatists”, Nonya wrote “Made in the United States”, Johannes said, most of them are,“very ugly cars”, GoyToy wrote,“computers being reliable”. I personally think that the Corporatocracy in which we live has destroyed any quality in our United States and I think that these prior comments demonstrate that. Until we personally create and make the products sold to us, we’re screwed.

That is because we American citizens, who actually vote for our represenatives, are being flushed down the toilet.

Now I was suspicious of Obama’s claim for “Change” because he never bothered to tell us what he actually intended to do.  He may want to do more than he is, but his corporate backers don’t want ANY change. Instead, they just want to steal from the American taxpayers, as they have since probably Reagan and most likely before.  At least, Reagan increased income taxes after his ideas led to a recession/inflation in 1980. After all, the guy had Alzheimer’s Disease which really does destroy the mind. My father died from Alzheimer’s Disease this last year and he was a very intelligent man who was very frustrated by his inability to construct a reasonable thought.  It’s really unfortunate that there isn’t an intelligence test to evaluate a canidate before he/she puts his/her name on the ballot.  It shouldn’t mean whomever has the MOST money wins.  It’s just like the CEO, Meg somebody, who is running for the California govenor position who says that she CAN FIX our state.  Yeah right, just like her buddy cohort, Swarsenegger who voiced the same CRAP when he ran for governor.  Notice that he didn’t get any recoverey for our state.  Personally, I think any individual who runs for office should be held accountable for one’s promises.  But then again, this is a Corporatocracy.  Gee, Duh!

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By Josh, February 5, 2010 at 2:35 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

An infrastructure based on gasoline-powered cars was a colossally stupid idea that we pay for more and more every day with our time, our money, our deteriorating health, and our lives.

Even if electric cars were run using renewable energy (which, overwhelmingly, they won’t be for quite some time), their existence is only a marginally less stupid idea.  They will still require tremendous amounts of energy that could be used for something more worthwhile, will still require that the world be covered in asphalt, and they will continue to kill people and animals.  Their manufacturing will continue to poison the ecosystem, as will their use (albeit to a somewhat reduced degree vs. their gas-powered cousins).

If we weren’t so stupid we might consider doing development in such a way that it was possible to live a full life with only our legs for transportation (and perhaps restoring our train network for the occasions when long-distance travel was really necessary).  There’s no reason we couldn’t create high-density mixed-use developments that entirely do away with the idea of the car and are much nicer places to be than the seas of asphalt in which we are now ensconced.

But that’s a big if.

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By johannes, February 5, 2010 at 1:09 pm Link to this comment

The biggest dealer of Japanees cars in Paris, = Jap cars, waths the problem.

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By John, February 5, 2010 at 1:03 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I once owned a 1972 Celica, purchased in 1973. I maintained it myself and it was still running at 200,000 miles when I sold it. I have a 1996 Camry with 165,000 miles on it. I bought it last month for $950. State mandatory insurance runs $24 a month. The car runs like a top. Twenty years ago I had the skills to rebuild a car engine in my driveway and do all the usual things-brake jobs, belts, hoses, starters, alternators, etc. I look under the hood on this thing and it’s obviously not designed to be repaired by a “shade tree” mechanic like myself. But so what- it runs like there is another 150,000 miles left in it. Every thing still works. Cruise control, power windows, air conditioning. I have never owned an American made car that would last 100,000 miles in near this good condition.

I have sworn two blood oaths in my life. One was to never buy another Ford. the second to never buy anything from AT&T.

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By garyrose66, February 5, 2010 at 12:09 pm Link to this comment

Nothing like insane risk assessment.  A handful of cars out of several million have some problems.  And the company that makes them is suddenly a greedy incompetent making shoddy cars?  There is definitely a subtle government led anti foreign car bias and piling on at work here - just in time to assist American car companies that collected billions from the government to stay afloat.  Now we are going to have an extreme risk bias as every car collision that involves a driver in a toyota is going to claim it was the accelerator or brakes, not driver inattention, incompetence, driving while elderly, the cell phone, hair styling, lunch, or sex while driving in the car that caused the accident.  We are now living in a world of lemming mentality combined with an irrational desire for perfect safety at all costs and we will all suffer in the long run as a result.  For example, the toyota bashing will cost not only toyota tens of billions in the long run, but cost american billions when dealers and all sorts of other american employers and famililies are hurt for an easily managed risk that actually occurs one in tens of billions of driven miles.

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By Anarcissie, February 5, 2010 at 12:00 pm Link to this comment

Since it’s testimony time, I’ll note that I have a 1986 Toyota, bought new, with about 160,000 miles on it, some of them pretty rough; it’s a bit rusty in spots, but it seems to run fine.  I see quite a few old Toyotas around.  It’s possible that their quality control has now deteriorated, however, just as Volkswagen’s did when it started to succeed in the American market.  I’ll admit my car is now sort of retired; I mostly get around by bicycle these days. 

I too was astounded by Mr. Robinson’s idea that personal computers are problem-free and reliable.  I guess he doesn’t use one.  But then what does he type in his stories on?

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By itsunamerican, February 5, 2010 at 11:14 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Funny…Toyotas never had a problem until they started building them in other countries…long live the Ford Pinto!

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By jay1953, February 5, 2010 at 11:10 am Link to this comment

I’ve owned American cars for the past 37 years and other than the regular wear and tear I never had a major problem with any of them. Other than the occasional change-out of starters, alternators, brakes, batteries and the like, no major problems. Most of that stuff I do myself. It’s not complicated. I got a scanner for the codes on the computer that tells me why the check engine light on. I do a lot of the maitatenance myself. Brakes, lights, etc. Oil changes I do at Jiffy Lube. Its not really cost effective to do it myself. I already did the math.

I got a 1997 Cady Seville with 106K miles that runs like a clock. It’s garage kept and looks line new. Only problems I’ve had with it is the mass air flow sensor about two years ago that I diagnosed with the scanner. Got a replacement at the auto parts store for $60. Took me about 20 minutes to install it. I had the A/C compressor replaced for about $700 last year but then again I never shut the air off since I live in Florida. Last year I replaced the worn struts, the wear is normal. Did it myself over a weekend. Ordered them online and paid about $1000. I could have not changed them but I decided to improve the ride with new struts and I had the extra money. Over all I’m very happy with the car. Hard to believe it but I get about 400 miles on a tank. It takes about 16-18 gallons to fill. There is no heavy traffic where I live. That helps.

My work vehicle is a 2000 Ford P/up with a 177k miles. This one also runs like a clock. Except for the normal wear and tear stuff and the alternator I installed, myself, last year everything is original, even the A/C which is still ice cold. I have to gas it up about every 2 years now since it’s worn, which I do myself. Cheap. The biggest expense I’ve had was the clutch about 3 years ago at about 125k miles. Didn’t have the time to do it myself and I paid $650 to have a new one installed. But geez, with at 125k miles I wasn’t disappointed. I figure I won’t need another until 250k miles.

Finally, my last car is a 1995 Buick that I bought used about 4 years ago for my wife to go to the grocery store. The car is loaded and its immaculate. Everything works and it runs great. Ice cold air. Only thing I’ve ever done to it is an alternator and oil changes. I got it with 85k and its got about 110k now with no signs of quitting any time soon. I just gas it up and go.

So my conclusion is that American brand cars are just as good as Toyota. My rightwing buddy with the Toyota had to get his transaxle rebuilt. The car is a 2004 with about 120k miles. He said he only paid $1600. But I know better. HA!HA!HA!

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By ofersince72, February 5, 2010 at 10:54 am Link to this comment

still got mine 92pickup, it will reach 300,000easily

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By Paul, February 5, 2010 at 10:29 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I can’t believe you guys publish this drivel.  “You plug in a reader device?”  If Robinson were not such a Luddite he’d look at the important factors, like defects per 1,000 cars made, as well as safety.  MUCH better today than his much vaunted golden-era of mechanical cars he pines for.  Yes, Toyota has a problem.  It happens sometimes, and its tragic that lives have been lost.  They will fix it, and be back on top in terms of quality and overall safety.  Why anyone would pay attention to this guy’s opinion on this matter is beyond me.

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By gerard, February 5, 2010 at 10:18 am Link to this comment

Johannes:

Please, no “Japs.”  The A-bomb was more than enough!

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By djnoll, February 5, 2010 at 8:53 am Link to this comment

In 1974 I was driving my 1972 Toyota Corolla station wagon with my then 2 year old daughter asleep in her car seat on US 1 in CA.  A pick-up hauling semi tires passed me in the fog, and about 15 minutes later three of those tire were rolling back straight at me out of the fog and darkness.  I missed two, but the third hit me dead center and my car was airborne.  I came down upright and still in control of the car, so I was able to pull over and check for damage.  Now two things were remarkable about this:  my daughter slept through the entire event, and the only damage to the car was a small dent under the license plate and the neutral switch on the transmission got trashed, so I could drive at 70 mph while apparently in neutral.  Because it was a holiday weekend and I was 800 miles from home, it took a couple days to get the car fixed, but it ran and except for the disconcerting feeling of driving without a sense of what gear I was in, it was fine. 

Now, I tell this story because 30 some odd years later I bought another Toyota - the Yaris.  When I bought it new, as I had the Corolla, I expected the same kind of quality.  Instead what I got was a $7000 warranty that was mandatory to get financing, and a car that hit over 90 mph with very little pressure on the gas pedal on the way home.  I never felt safe in the car, the payments were outrageous, and speed control was a serious issue.  While I liked the gas savings, in the end because of family economic problems, we had to give up the car via voluntary repossession.  Toyota sold the car for its blue book value only, and I am still on the hook for that warranty.

In the years in between I owned American made cars that often spent more time in the shop than on the road.  The best truck I owned was a Ford F-150, but for over a year it had problems because of a hairline crack in the distributor that no one could find.  But it was a truck that could be worked on by any local mechanic in any small town if it broke down, and it ran like a top once it was completely rebuild at age 22 years!

Toyota has become its own worst enemy now that it has adopted the American model of business, and as a result their vehicles are no longer safe, and while older Toyotas are still running strong and are still reliable, I think I will stick to older used American cars now.  At least I can get them worked on without having to pay for worthless warranties or put myself in debt for dangerous vehicles that have expensive repair costs and parts.

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By ecoshift, February 5, 2010 at 8:34 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Toyota: made in America

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By jay1953, February 5, 2010 at 7:50 am Link to this comment

(“A friend of mine once had a Toyota that wouldn’t die. The odometer had only a dim recollection of passing 100,000 miles, the body was dinged and the paint was faded and the interior was worn, but the thing just kept running. He finally parked it at the airport, removed the plates and walked away”.)

Shiiiit, I did that twice. Once with a 1966 Ford and another time with 1968 Pontiac. I got tired of driving them and the frigging things wouldn’t die. The Ford I just parked on the street and left it there. The Pontiac I parked it under a big tree and walked away. On both I tried my best to run them into the ground. Couldn’t do it.

So I always buy American and always will. Even if the Toyotas are assembled here, with mostly Japanese made parts, the profits still go overseas. My right wing flag waving Republican Evangelical friend always buys Toyotas. He’s like one of those guys who believes that Obama was born in Kenya and a Muslim. What a hypocrite, tell him to his face when he comes out with his bs right-wing theological talking points. I wipe the floor with him. Lately though its been a little disappointing though cause now when I bait him he doesn’t bite. He’s no fun anymore.

Screw it, inflate the dollar to wipe out the foreign debt. Increase import tariffs. Tax the pants off excessive executive compensation. Put income tax rates back to what they where during Eisenhower. Cut defense spending by 90% and invest the money in social programs such as health-care, housing, education, energy and nutrition.

I get a laugh when I hear politicians say that the American voter is intelligent. What a lie. This country is run buy a bunch of self centered politicians pandering to an electorate consisting mostly of morons.

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By mookins, February 5, 2010 at 6:46 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Man, I am not liking Johannes’ racist ‘jap’ reference.

My four-cylinder Nissan pickup still didn’t use oil at 200,000 miles, and would’ve gone a lot further if I’d done the preventive maintenance. Of course, now with a factory rebuilt engine it’s good pretty much forever.

My old boss bought a Ford Ranger with about 70,000 miles, obviously well cared for, with a four-liter straight six prematurely worn out, as was the suspension; had a factory rebuilt engine installed with a one year warranty. Three days after its expiration, that engine just fell apart, the piece of junk.

Another guy I know got a factory rebuilt engine for his Dodge Lebaron; it lasted about two months, and after he had it towed back to the dealer, the mechanic showed him how instead of aligning the head on its locating studs, the factory had simply hammered it down, jamming it into place.

My point is, It was American management’s deliberate decision to neglect quality control, sacrificing their companies’ long-term viability for short-term profits.

Toyota, by contrast, is kicking ass on their problems the moment they’ve arisen.

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By george szabo from canada, February 5, 2010 at 6:16 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The older ones were definitely better, We had a 95 Corolla, sold it at 360,000 Km
its still running good, a bit rusty but reliable, Now we have a 2002 Corolla, runs
great but a few more problems than the 95. And also have a 2007 Matrix, a
really great and versatile car but I can see the deterioration in quality over the
years. Would probably buy another Toyota but they have become so ugly looking.
Maybe their Lexus stylists could do something about it, because the Honda
Fit is beginning to look better and more tempting….As far as domestics.. they
still have a long way to go , ever drive a 10 year old Sunbird or Escort or Neon ?
A rather memorable experience….

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By SoTexGuy, February 5, 2010 at 6:12 am Link to this comment

Cost-cutting drives changes in how cars are designed and produced. Later, the changes are sold to us as improvements in safety, convenience, comfort or efficiency. The real change is that less of lasting value is put into the vehicles.. less steel and other raw materials.. and of course less trained labor.

If Toyota has made blunders or somehow lost it’s edge it’s because they started some time ago to make cars for us.. for Americans. Now voila! their products are less reliable and sold increasingly on style and innovation and less emphasis is placed on simple reliability and durability.

The idea that autos and the auto industry relentlessly pursue or are naturally drawn to some higher form.. an evolution to excellence for excellence’ sake.. is goofy and another canard of the sales and consumption industry.

But what about fuel efficiency and pollution? Clean running engines are great but I’ll put the total lifetime emissions of my 1980 Datsun pickup truck that ran 40MPG at highway speed, carburetor and all, against any new vehicle with the same capabilities.. it’s simple cause and effect.. less fuel in - less pollution out.

Ultimately, the 1992 Toyota pickup truck I am still driving (at 220,000 miles) will have been much more efficient and make less of an impact on the environment than the three or four ‘more sophisticated’ vehicles, be they gas, diesel, hybrid or electric, that I would have to buy and subsequently discard over the same period of use..

That’s my take on that whole deal.

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By clipper, February 5, 2010 at 6:00 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Since we all know about competition, and sabotage, it does make one wonder why at the time when American car companies are going down, suddenly all the Toyota problems??
Food for Thought!

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By Nonya, February 5, 2010 at 5:27 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Um…did anyone notice that the peddle and the breaks that failed were made here in America. The Japanese breaks and acceleraters are fine. If your car has American parts and not the Japanese parts take it in NOW.

Americans have become so fixated on making top dollar for the least amount that they will cut corners even at the cost of human life. Greedy bastards! Toyota sold its soul to the american corperatist when they set up to make Toyotas here in America.

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By johannes, February 5, 2010 at 4:51 am Link to this comment

Bether and stronger; Mercedes, Volvo, Saab, on the moment we are driving an VW Passat break with 320 000 km, still going strong, and an Audi A2, 3 cylindre diesel, 4 liters to 100 km, now 180 000km, both cars no great problems just services on time.

So for us no Japs, most of them are very ugly cars.

Its a mainstream media hocus pocus about Jap cars, very cleaverly donne.

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By screamingpalm, February 5, 2010 at 4:36 am Link to this comment

Unsafe at any speed. ;—)

I am approaching my first year anniversary of having sold my car. It’s a liberating feeling, though I am lucky to live in an area that has outstanding public transportation. I usually walk or ride a bicycle though.

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By Garrison, February 5, 2010 at 4:25 am Link to this comment

When I decided to retire my dented ‘92 Corolla with 350k + miles, I tried selling it for scrap (here in England), but was beseiged by Nigerian exporters wanting to add it to the taxi ranks of Lagos. Sold!There are more Totyotas still on the road than any other make… but I agree they have overstepped and seem to have lost the ‘reliability’ edge they are so famous for. It will be a long climb back - but I would still trust a Toyota over any other make.

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By johannes, February 5, 2010 at 3:54 am Link to this comment

Before the Japs came on the market, my father was always driving American cars, Ford mercury, Chevrolet bel air, same problem they kept roling, my father not even changed the motor oil just filling by, the golden age of the American industries.

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By GoyToy, February 5, 2010 at 2:12 am Link to this comment

Mr. Robinson writes: “Raise your hand if you think it’s a great idea to make our cars precisely as dependable and problem-free as, gulp, our personal computers.”

Does he own a PC?

LOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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