Sunday, February 28, 2010

Why I defend Toyota

With the outbreak of hysterical media lynch mobs now blaming Toyota for just about everything wrong involving motor vehicles except perhaps fat cops, there is a strong temptation to just wait out the madness.  After all, I don't own Toyota stock, they don't give me any advertising money, and I don't work for their lobbyists.  And I am damn happy I don't have to build their cars--their autoworkers work extremely hard and are not allowed to join unions.

So why should I stand in front of self-righteous angry mobs who are screaming for the heads of Toyota Motors?  Why should I give a damn at all?

A) This blog exists because I believe the Producers are essential for any possible economic recovery.  I believe that while Producers should be held to the highest standards, I refuse to join in unjustified Producer-bashing.  If Toyota were held to the standards of Washington Post pundits, academic economists, or Wall Street banksters, they would have to be 100s of thousands of times worse to even appear on the bad-guy charts.  An academic economist might be lucky to get something right twice in his career, Toyota has to get millions of things right every single day.

B) The attack on Toyota offends my sense of automotive expertise.  I have been a car aficionado for a long time.
  • I was Ford guy in the 1960s when Hank II decided he wanted to win every competition worth winning.  Cost was no object--the Ford GT-40 was the second use for aluminum honeycomb after the space program.  My neighbor worked for the Ford dealership so I got to read the internal documents on Ford Racing sent to dealers.
  • I started reading the car magazines like Car and Driver in 1965--a habit I would continue for 30 years.
  • I have owned some pretty interesting cars starting with an Austin-Healy Sprite, a Triumph TR-4, a Mazda RX-7, a Saab 99 and a 900.  The Sprite was the worst piece of shit imaginable, the Saab 900 lasted over 296,000 miles.  I DO understand automotive build quality.
  • I worked for an auto parts store during my university days and maintained my own cars until I was into my 30s.  Also helped friends do some pretty serious fixing that occasionally meant pulling an engine.
  • Took graduate-level courses in energy and transportation policy at the University of Minnesota.
  • Did serious research into state-of-the-art quality control methods in the 1980s--a time when Toyota was rewriting the books on build quality.
  • I currently drive a 14-year-old car that is almost flawless in part because I know how to maintain an automobile, and when I need professional help, I know how to hire a qualified mechanic.  And my current car, a Lexus LS is by FAR the best-built vehicle I have ever been around.  There are times when it astonishes me.
C) If there is one thing that occasionally bothers me about driving a Lexus is how MUCH attention and fussing is lavished on the owner/driver.  "So THIS is how the rich live," I would marvel when I first got mine.  There is no human on earth who deserves to drive such a car--including me.  The IDEA that Toyota doesn't have sufficient concern for their customers is literally beyond absurd.  The IDEA that they would deliberately endanger their customers is beyond preposterous.

D) One of the reason I like the Toyota story of accomplishment is because it validates Isaiah 2:4 where it reads "They shall beat the swords into plowshares..." One of the many reasons for Japanese excellence in automaking is that their great engineers now perfect Toyotas--NOT build battleships and fighter planes as they did before 1945.

E) Toyota got where it did with hard work.  Their reputation for excellence was earned.  You don't reach the top of every meaningful quality chart by managing perceptions or running clever ads.  You get there by making excellence a daily pursuit--for YEARS.  That such a reputation could be ruined with lies and slander offends me.

F) Even if you think Toyota makes ugly rice burners and you can never forgive the Japs for Pearl Harbor, you still can appreciate their influence on the automotive industry.  That 2010 Chevy Malibu that is 15 times better than it was 15 years ago is that way because Toyota set the quality bar so high and then told everyone who was interested how they did it.

But as you may have guessed, this is more than some affection for my incredible Lexus.  This is personal.  I was a preacher's kid.  I HATED it.  I hated having 250 church ladies who considered it their right to comment on my behavior to my face.  But mostly, I hated the infinity of arguments I got into with my father because he wanted me to believe the unbelievable.  In his head, if you didn't believe in virgin births, or Noah's Ark, or etc., how could you believe in the resurrection of the dead.  And if you didn't believe THAT, you were on your you way to hell.  So my otherwise pretty decent father put me in a position where I HAD to believe bullshit or I could not love him properly nor would I spend eternity with him and my mother in heaven.

So I coped with this madness by retreating into a complicated and demanding hobby--building model airplanes.  Airplanes flew precisely BECAUSE you never believed anything BUT the believable.  Of course, the downside is that flying is VERY unforgiving--get 10,000 things right and one thing wrong and the airplane WILL crash.  It is the perfect justice of mother nature--get everything right and you fly--get one thing wrong and you die.  Truthfully, I hoped I could spend my adult life in the world of folks who understood the world like airplane builders did. (The airplane below flew pretty well. I was SUCH a nerd)

WRONG.  I live in USA where stupidity is deified.  It isn't just religion that demands you believe bullshit.  It's folks with their crystals and horoscopes and Laffer curves and supply-side economics and the lies about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.  It is news services that wouldn't know a news story if it smacked them in the face.  It is Harvard cranking out a presidential candidate who believed his uncle in the American Army could have liberated Auschwitz.  It is folks who would rather read science fiction than learn science fact.  It is the infinite worship of pig-headed ignorance.

And the so-called "left" caters to this by telling us that everyone has an equal right to their own opinion.  The assumption here is that there is no difference between informed and uninformed opinion.  In fact, we aren't even suppose to require that children actually learn something in school.

Unfortunately, in the USA court of public opinion, someone who believes in "unintended acceleration" has equal standing with a company that has produced reliable transportation for millions of fiercely loyal customers.

And THIS is what I object to--that I live in a country that gives equal weight to pure bullshit and excellence in manufacturing.  In the back of my mind, I can hear my father telling me I will go to hell because I cannot believe someone turned water into wine.


  1. Jonathan - I appreciate your comments and your passion on this issue - and I agree it is dangerous to tarnish the reputation of Toyota without a thorough understanding of the facts. I also am concerned about defending Toyota without a thorough review of underlying facts.

    For me, the most concerning fact is the data from the State Farm Accident database. This database contains the most comprehensive vehicle accident data available ... it is maintained more rigorously and has better detail than NHTSA databases. State Farm sent notification to NHTSA and Toyota in 2007 that their database was showing unintended acceleration accident frequencies which were several levels of magnitude beyond baselines (and the levels of other manufacturers).

    The data says Toyota has a problem.

  2. Jonathan, my latest post on this topic is here: Feel free to take it personally as I am dumbfounded by the way you are confusing engineering quality with not owning up to your screw ups. That link includes a link to a very recent ABC report in which they've identified the problem: the on board computer misfires but doesn't record its own error.

    The L.A. Times has a long article today that consists almost entirely of horror stories concerning sudden acceleration in Toyotas. Please read those case stories as they do not speak to Toyota bashing so much as WTF pleas from Toyota users to FIX THIS PROBLEM.

    I love Apple as much as you love Toyota. It would never occur to me to trust Steve Jobs. I like that Steve Jobs makes good computers, but that doesn't make Steve a good person or necessarily trustworthy.

    Toyota has much to answer for. NOT because they screwed up, but because they covered up their screw up. As with Watergate the crime is the cover up, not the 3d rate computer.

  3. @Paul

    I didn't believe in "unintended acceleration" when it was supposedly a problem for Audi 5000s in 1986 and I don't believe it now--no matter what some damn INSURANCE company says. After all, when all the investigations were finished, Audi was TOTALLY exonerated. And since Toyota sells no car that doesn't have WAY more brakes than motor, I hardly see how this could EVER be a SAFETY issue.

    @ Gisleson

    What cover-up? Toyota is already spending over $250,000,000 and sent their president to commit some ritualized hari-kari before Congress for a problem that hasn't been scientifically recreated or otherwise proven to even exist. Toyota saw what happened to Audi when Audi stood up to the mass hysteria caused by CBS and blamed their customers for driver error (which turned out to be true!) So now Toyota is apologizing for things they likely didn't even do.

    You know, I am always suspicious of the "it wasn't the blowjob, it was the lying under oath" sort of political argument. If a crime wasn't a crime, how can the coverup be a crime.

    You know, in some ways, Toyota really did bring this on themselves. I was able to drive a Saab 900 for 296,000 miles because whenever I thought about my car, I just told myself to think like a good Swedish engineer. So I made logical maintenance choices. That's how you get premium European cars to last. Toyota, on the other hand, always believed that they could make a car so reliable, it would last even if the owners knew so little about their cars they couldn't even be bothered to read their owner's manual, or their mechanics were fools or crooks. Since the universe of people who know absolutely NOTHING about how their automobile works is virtually infinite, this was a good marketing move. But now they have an infinity of owners who will believe damn near anything. (sigh)

    You know, I always wonder why things like "unintended acceleration" never happens to people who actually know something about their cars. It is a puzzlement!

  4. So ABC recreating this computer error doesn't count? 56 dead people aren't proof there's a problem?

    Jonathan, make an effort to read up on this. You're not tracking the real scandal and are instead focusing on the process, not the results.

  5. Jonathan,

    The 56 families who have experienced loss believe there is a problem.

    The NY Times today reports multiple incidents of unintended acceleration in supposedly "repaired" vehicles.

    Your comment that you don't believe what "some damn INSURANCE company" says ... if in fact it was a press release intended to sway public opinion, or sell a policy, that would be one thing, but the DATA was shared with the gov't and Toyota to ALERT them lives were at risk.

    You go to great lengths to explain the secret to Toyota's success as the "Toyota system" of identifying process variation through data analysis ... but when data suggests Toyota has a problem, you discount or totally ignore the data. I am sure, deep within Toyota, engineers are trying to isolate the key factors causing vehicles to accelerate ... and they are listening to the data ... trying to understand where the process variations are introduced.

    You, sir, are discrediting the value of your posts.

  6. Really?

    Here's the deal. I am not a betting man, but if I were, I would bet that an independent investigation will clear Toyota's name--just like Audi was cleared.

    Toyota's accusers have the credibility of some drooling moron in rural Alabama who claims an UFO kidnapped him and conducted an anal probe. Here in Minnesota, some guy, in JAIL, claims a 1996 Camry ran away while he was standing on the brakes.

    Here's a hint--if a story is physically impossible, then it is a lie. In a country where we supposedly have the presumption of innocence, there are folks who will believe a convicted felon over a company that has EARNED the right to be treated as innocent for a LONG time. What a shame.

    Now I have to run some errands in my "dangerous" Lexus. And I am NOT afraid that some flaw will surface after 135,000 miles to kill me. You want to believe this anti-Toyota BS, please be my guest. Just remember, whatever non-Toyota you drive instead is statistically MUCH more likely to flaws.

  7. Jonathan, you are standing up to lawyer thieves perched on the shoulders of brain-dead morons, with the nice perfume of money floating their way. Good luck, you need it!

  8. Jonathan, The guy in jail was driving his family home from church when that accident occurred. He sideswiped 4 cars before colliding with a car which held the father and son who were killed. He had no prior entanglements with the law and was meaningfully employed.

    You really should take a few minutes and do some research on the energy absorbtion capability of brakes. When a car is traveling at speed (high kinetic energy) and full engine power is applied, brake energy dissipation capacity is exceeded, depending on the sizing of the brakes. This is not true at lower speeds, where the kinetic energy is low ... and it is generally not true for SUV's and pickups where the brake is sized for pulling loads ... but in cars, the brake capacity only slightly exceeds the traction limit of the wheels & tires.

    Why don't you conduct a test? .... run your lexus up to 55 .... floor it and wait for the engine to develop max power .... then fully apply the brakes ... YOU WILL NOT STOP.

  9. I am STILL a proud toyota owner. I have loved my vehicles for many years and all the evidence I can gather makes me believe the final story on the Toyota recalls should be that no manufacturer in history has ever gone to such extreme measures to take care of their customers. That's why we love and defend Toyota.