Friday, January 29, 2010

657 A Matter of Honor

657 A Matter of Honor

Stu and Hashi have been a couple longer than most married couples. Stu is a Doctor of Medicine and teaches it. Hashi is an early 1980s Toyota Corolla. Here's how they met: Doc needed a car, thought about a Buick. They used to call that the Doctors' car. Then he thought about a Ford. Then he thought about a Dodge.

But that little voice in his head kept saying "Corolla, Corolla, Corolla." So one day instead of teaching, working at the clinic, golfing or (gasp!) treating patients, Stu waltzed into the Toyota dealer in East Moote Pointe, NY and told the first sales guy who approached him "I want a Corolla." "Surely sir. Would you like to test drive a few?" "No, just wrap it up and do the paperwork."

No test drive, no negotiations, no nothing. Just in and out like it was an ice cream pop or a Big Mac. Hashi's been on the road for 263,000 miles and counting and never once has anything big gone wrong. Oh, he had to replace the muffler twice and the tires and some of the lights. And Hashi's got the scars of all those years on the BQE and Flatbush and Moote Pointe on her. But she's still going and stopping when she should and never when she shouldn't.

And in those days and in the years that followed, there were a lot of guys like Stu. That segment of the market is gone.

Toyota has become just another car. Millions recalled, manufacturing stopped until they figure out and solve the "rapid acceleration problem," This only used to happen to Plymouths and Chevies and Mercuries. Toyota always banked on being the more or less Plain Hashi that was sensible, reliable and cheap on gasoline.

The company will recover. But it's made two big mistakes and is paying dearly for them.

The first is called the GM Mistake: The GM Mistake is when you're edging toward being the world's biggest seller and you just HAVE to make it past the guy who is in that spot now. This mis-focuses your energy, your ability and causes you to think more about numbers than reliability.

The second mistake is called the Volkswagen mistake. That's when you decide your handful of basic models isn't enough and you start building stuff for every market segment. Big ones, small ones, mid sized ones, seven sizes of trucks and vans and SUVs. That dilutes your energy, your ability and causes you to think more about market segments than actual customers.

Toyota's done both.

This will not kill them. It didn't kill GM and it didn't kill VW. But damned close.

What will happen is this: for the next three or four years, Honda will not be able to keep up with demand from people who likely would have bought Toyotas, and will do nothing to fix that shortage and shouldn't.

Toyota will recover. They'll remember what they do. And they will keep selling plenty of cars. But they've lost the Dr. Stus of the world who didn't need to test drive, dicker on price or negotiate about accessory packages.

And they will have lost that mystique of imperviousness to earthly woes, even though what they make post-recall and when production resumes will be better than anything they've ever built previously.

It's a matter of honor.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2010

I'm Wes Richardes

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