As a native of Detroit, the Motor City, I have watched media coverage of Toyota’s troubles with an air of schadenfreude. I don’t usually take pleasure in other people’s discomfort, but I believe the hand-wringing I’ve seen in media coverage on organizations from CNN to NPR comes from the shattering of blind faith in Toyota’s product. I heard one host ask, breathlessly, “what should I do with my Toyota? I mean, I drive my children in that car.” (Emphasis added.)
What I’ve found interesting about watching both Toyota and the media coverage is that there is this sense of shock that anything could go wrong. Not to oversimplify the story, but by many accounts, Toyota was going through a growth spurt and had trouble keeping quality control during that process. Consumers and regulatory agencies have piled on enough scrutiny to force the company into action. And now Toyota is scrambling to safe face and customers.
I went through the bad-old days in Detroit, when the Big Four (remember AMC?) were just discovering that they couldn’t push any old thing onto showroom floors and have people buy it. In the 1970’s and again in the 1980’s, there were some truly awful products cranked out by Detroit. And when autoworkers were climbing on top of foreign cars like Toyota, hitting them with sledgehammers, many consumers were abandoning Detroit in droves and rightly so. That’s the way the marketplace is supposed to work. Build a better product, and you will succeed.
A recent blog of mine talked about ‘Licking the Toad’. The sense of the statement is that bad news doesn’t get any better with time. I think Toyota is living this example.