Why the Recall Should Improve Your Faith in Toyota

UPDATE: I’m completely wrong. I had a friend who had worked in the industry straighten me out. It turns out “voluntary” is a misnomer. It’s only voluntary because the government says recall or we’ll make you and the “voluntary” part is for PR purposes. What a shame. What my friend said to me:

You’re giving Toyota too much credit.  Coming from working in and growing up with the auto industry my entire life, I will tell you that there is no such thing as a voluntary recall.  It’s always one of those gun-to-the-head things, believe me. Don’t want to burst your bubble or anything. The gov’t probably gave them the option to voluntarily recall (for PR’s sake) or they would be forced into it.  There’s a whole process.  I worked in safety restraints testing, which is strictly regulated, tested, and monitored for potential recalls (and has lots of lawsuits because no one wants to admit that they weren’t wearing their seatbelt).  Having the option to ‘volunteer’ to recall is also based on the severity.  And when you volunteer, you also get more flexibility on how you manage it, to minimize your costs, etc.  No one wants the gov’t in their business.  Plus no one wants to do an expensive recall unless they absolutely have to.

I also could tell you a thing or two about Japanese quality, having worked for both Japanese-owned automotive suppliers and American-owned automotive suppliers.  It’s all a facade, really.  A lot of cover ups and saving face happens. Bottom line, I will give to you is that the Japanese are much better at ‘managing their customers’ especially at the dealership level.  The American cars get a worse rep because they don’t deal with a problem and fix it right away.  The Japanese automakers might have a lot of problems, too, but they fix it right the first time so the customer is immediately satisfied and doesn’t let issues fester.  But this is a good practice in any industry.  Some get it and some don’t.

Before the recall — before I thought Toyota had done the right thing — I had mixed feelings about my current Toyota vehicle. As mentioned, I had owned multiple Toyota cars and trucks before my latest RAV4 purchase. And while I did a little research, I didn’t think twice about buying a Toyota. They always got the little things (and big ones) right.

The RAV4 felt different to me. The airflow was odd, the way the spare tire worked was weird, the way the car started was strange. For the first time I’m not getting better than listed gas mileage with a Toyota. I’m way under. There were a bunch of little things that made me question the car’s quality.

I’m not saying I’d never buy a Toyota again, and the recall won’t dominate my decision. But next time I’ll do more research and drive more cars to see which one I like best.


ORIGINAL: If you missed it, Toyota recalled 2.3 million cars, trucks and SUVs, announced last week. There is concern that the acceleration pedal could stick. This follows a recall regarding floor mats that could slide and get lodged under the break pedal. Both recalls were voluntary. Toyota also announced that they stopped production of these vehicles until the problem can be resolved. This pedal problem is believed to have caused 19 deaths here in the U.S.

So I’m listening to the radio this morning on the way to the gym and hearing that Toyota is taking a huge hit because of this, that people are uncertain about buying Toyota cars now.

I can understand how that would be an initial reaction. After all people trust their car to keep them safe and not go all HAL on them.

But, folks, this is foolish.

Toyota just voluntarily recalled 2.3 million U.S. automobiles over 19 deaths. The tobacco industry lives with those deaths every millisecond. If anything, it reconfirmed my belief in Toyota. After all they could have swept this under the rug and ignored the problem. Instead they will incur hundreds of millions of dollars in recall costs, production costs and sales — not to mention the likely hit to its reputation.

If anything, I have more faith in Toyota doing the right thing in the future.


Disclosure: My wife and I own a Toyota RAV4 that is not in the recall. The two of us have been driving a combined 36 years, have owned three Toyotas, including the RAV4, plus six other cars including three Hondas, a Nissan and two Pontiacs.