Oh How the Mighty Have Fallen: Is Toyota the new GM/Ford from the ’60s/’70s?!

If you haven’t been watching news lately, Toyota has announced the biggest, if not one of the biggest, recalls on vehicles… EVER!  Evidently it’s a pedal that seems to get stuck.  It has already claimed lives… and its luxury sibling, Lexus isn’t immune to this defect either.

Picture courtesy of NY Times

According to the NY Times article, four people died in a tragic accident that shouldn’t have happened in last August in a Lexus ES 350!  How the hell does this kind of stuff happen?!  Well, from my sociology class from yonder years in college at WPI, I am reminded of the ethics falling behind the curtains of schedules and costs.  Ford & GM had similar safety issues but with gas fuel tanks in the ’60s and the ’70s.

Back then, I thought Ford and GM had made one of the worst choices by choosing not to recall the cars and leave it to statistics and chance and paying out lawsuits rather than spending millions in repairing the dangerous defects.  I still hesitate because such an inherently terrible oversight makes a consumer think twice and buying such product.  Only recently (since 2005) have I actually thought that Ford has come a long way and made the cars actually decent and safe.  So in essence, it has taken about 30 to 40 years to erase the reputation damage that were burned into the minds of the consumers.

So I was rather shocked and disappointed to find out that Toyota has been so slow in doing something about this recall and dealing with its defects!  It applies to millions of cars including the best-selling Camry!  When you choose money over people, you are telling the consumers that you don’t care about us and only care about money.  Well, that will always be true to certain degree because of the nature of for-profit companies.  However, if you look at things in long-term perspective, you think Toyota would have learned from the lessons of Ford and GM.  Come on!  Toyota is repeating history!

Today’s headline in Business Weekly shows that their decision to recall and repair was too slow.  Trying to hide it or ignore it (or whatever they call it) is definitely the worst business AND ethical decision they have made EVER!!!

I will say this… Toyota, welcome to my black list.  I will buy your cars in maybe 30 years or so… when that terrible stigma of poor decision making process wears off from me, your typical consumer.  Sheesh…  Just the picture of this Pinto makes me shriek and reminds me of some of the terrible decisions made from the past…

Courtesy of Motherjones.com

UPDATE: Now, though fixed somewhat more or less, 2010 Prius have had some brake issues as Toyota admits its problems.  Like I said in the last comment, Toyota is at best becoming like Sony, just big in its head and riding on its popularity.

UPDATE 2: This lady was driving a ’07 Tundra pickup….

11 Replies to “Oh How the Mighty Have Fallen: Is Toyota the new GM/Ford from the ’60s/’70s?!”

  1. Uhh, Peter, you know that the GM and Ford fire issues is kinda a myth? The supposedly safety expose that ABC did to Ford and NBC Dateline did to GM, both had incendiary devices in the car.

    As for that memo that mother jones and others reference, it is not the smoking gun of corporate greed that these advocacy groups say it is – from what I read, it has nothing dealing with tort issues, much deliberations on that being cheaper than a design change. It was a document for federal regulators and the reason why it had a value for human life was because that is what the regulators themselves used in their discussions.

    Now having said that, we are talking about gasoline and it is flammable, so no matter the design, there is always a non-zero chance that a crash or something can make a car catch on fire. (As a rocket scientist and engineer, you should know about the limits of design and engineering). I am guessing that if you look at the Pinto, it will probably will not have that much higher incidence of fires than a comparable vehicle. And this fire issue really has no bearing on the struggles of the American car company (you can thank the deals with unions for that – talk about shortsightedness from management).

    As for the Toyota thing – I know people died and it is a tragedy and I am not trying to lighten that a bit. However, for me it is quite a jump to conclude that it is a result of some evil scheming by some guy behind a curtain that turns everything into a number. If you haven’t notice in the NYT article, the NHTSA itself ran 6 separate test and they came up with loose floor mats too…Call it incompetence, call it corporate culture or whatever, but I think to call it evil is something that is not warranted at the moment.

  2. Are we talking about the same issue (re: Ford & GM)? Back when I was in college, this was one of THE hot topic about ethics and engineering class… anyhow, it is going towards the evil number money cruncher theory as Toyota is getting yet another probe into Prius and its issues with brakes at low speeds. Both the Japanese and US govts are bringing it up. You can’t possibly be thinking that cost didn’t come into issue… that was big thing when Challenger incident happened in the mid-80’s as delays were costing NASA and contractors money.

    I cannot yield on this issue as it is a very personal thing I have against corporations wanting to hide these things for the sake of doing calculative measures playing with lives using probabilities and costs.

  3. I think we are talking about the same thing when it comes to car fires. You have the pinto picture from mother jones and that started this car fire thing. I dont remember the ABC and Ford thing, but I definitely remember the Dateline controversy with GM vehicles.

    Anyway, I saw the fuel leakage memo (at least what I think is the memo) and it is not really even about the Ford Pinto but small cars in general and it is part of a larger report dealing with rollover. In other words, it was not something that some evil Ford executive found out about a flaw in the Pinto design and went through this cost/benefit analysis to justify not changing the design.

    And of course cost comes into consideration – it comes into consideration for pretty much anything that anybody does whether that person is an individual, an organization, a church or a corporation. All I am saying is that it is not the only thing (and maybe not even the main thing) and going through one does not make one evil – since if that is the case, then everyone would be evil. We all do it.

    Call it incompetence, call it arrogance, call it denial, call it slow, but to say that some corporate executive said: look its going to only cost us 100 million and 1000 lives if we do not fix this and 400 million if we do and so lets not not fix it and cover it up on top of it, is evil and that to me is something different.

    Toyota has to recall millions of vehicles, it stopped production on some of their most popular models and it is facing probably dozens of lawsuits. It will cost them plenty both directly and indirectly in terms of lost prestige. I would not be surprised if couple of executives resign over it. I am not saying this to gain any pity for the company, just saying that with this cost and with the negative examples from Ford and GM as you stated (as well as other negative examples such as tobacco companies), to me to say they just took cost into consideration and covered it up kinda stretches it for me.

  4. To be honest, I think you are being naive if you think that money is not the center of for-profit corporations. The fact that I took a class back in early ’90s solely dedicated to such issues where cost and ethics became such major issues (and I am majorly referring also to gas tank issues placed in the rear bumper area that led to explosions, and other subsequent but DIFFERENT issues that could’ve been fixed but left to chance/lawsuit) already should indicate that no company is immune to it.

    Esp. once the company is publicly traded, AIG comes to mind… and others “cooking” the books like Worlcom and Enron… Exxon CEO blatantly stating that they don’t want to even attempt at “going green” because they exist solely for profit… if those are not clear enough indicators then we are on very different pages.

  5. I’m glad you took an ethics class, I did too – actually I took two: One general and one more specific to computer science.


    Of course corporations or any business big or small for that matter exist for profit. Where did I say that they did not? If they did not have profit and lost money, they would no longer be in business and people would be out of jobs. I simply said that a cost/benefit stuff is a consideration (among many other things) that any business would include in any analysis as they do their thing.

    That was my point in my last paragraph – you were implying that Toyota like the greedy and evil corporations that they are disregarded altering a design flaw and covered it up just because they though they could save some more money.

    I am stating that if they were the greedy and evil corporation that you make them out to be, they probably would not have done that due to risks such as one, negative impact to the brand (as you stated it affected Ford and GM. You can add Enron and Worldcom in here too – they no longer exist), two, shut production on their most popular vehicles, three massive recall, four, settle bunch of lawsuits, five, who knows that government action will occur to penalize them more. Let me also add this: the executives and other workers in Toyota and their families as well as corporate partners are probably driving the very same models that were on recall. You are telling me that these corporate types are so evil and so greedy that they would face untold billions in loses and face possible jail time as well as put themselves and their families lives in danger to cover up a design flaw? Again, my point with Toyota is not saying that they are or are not resposible for things cause by

    Yes, I know about the design of the gas tanks on the Pinto. However, I am guessing that if you take a look at it, deaths from fires from that is not that much higher than deaths from fires of other cars (again we are talking about gas here and things designed and build by man). Why do I make that guess? Because we joke about it (see Top Secret movie from the 80s – much closer to the time that Pinto had its issues). If people were burning to death left and right due to that issue, people would not joke about it. Its kinda like joking about 9/11. Heck, I saw something where people fired bullets into a car’s gas tank and it only caught on fire when they used tracer bullets – ie, bullets that has a pyrotechnic charge on it.

    I’m not even gonna go into the other topic of ‘going green’ – it would probably open up another can of worms. Maybe on another post

  6. when it comes down to it, there are two things I am trying to say:

    1. My point with Toyota is not saying that they are not resposible for things cause by the issues with gas pedals or breaks. I am just doubting that they are this evil corporation involved in some nefarious coverup. (of course, to some such as hollywood types, corporation is epitomy of evil so perhaps I am just wasting my time)

    2. the pinto thing (and in general the issue with fires on GM and Ford vehicles) are overblown. I said myth – but perhaps overblown is a bit more accurate of a word.

  7. Think too well of corporations? It seems to me that you are reading too much into my posts or at least trying to read my mind. I am quite neutral when it comes to corporations in the sense that they are human constructs. What I dont do is go overboard and take one example and make it representative of the whole – for every Enron or Worldcom, there are thousands of other companies that did not do what they did. Not sure if your company has meetings or conferences where you can talk to your executives, but if you have a chance, you should. If they are like the executives that I heard, then I think you will see what I mean.

    Anyway, that article that you linked, it is one of the reasons why I fear for journalism’s future (which to me would be a bad thing). It was filled with innuendos and sensationalism that I was hearing some omnious music while reading it and half expected to see Russell Crowe to pop out and have credits rolling at the end saying that it was directed by Oliver Stone.

  8. While I do agree that not all corporations are evil, they are here to make money and it is very rare that those companies do things actually for the benefit of the people. Most of those start up as non-profit if they really have such visions…

    As for journalism & sensationalism, other … um.. for lack of better words, non-sensationalistic journalist sites, like < Autoblog states similar reports. And now they are looking into, even though it may be only as a precaution, into Lexus HS hybrid as well.

  9. I do not agree that corporations in large do not benefit the people. If they did not offer something that benefit me, they would not get my money that they crave so much no matter how much they harangue me. The only institution that can take my money no matter what is government (I believe government is a source of income for these so called ‘non-profit’ groups). That is the beauty of the free market and capitalism. It ties the self interest of one party to the self interest of another and those that benefit the most people gets rewarded the most.

    As for Toyota, I am repeating myself here: The contention is not the mistakes, they made mistakes. The contention is that I do not believe that they are involved in some evil coverup. Yes, there are some fly by night operation that lie to make a sale and then disappear, but Toyota was here for awhile and want to be here a long time. They have a corporate image of reliability and though that has taken a hit, I do not think they will endanger that even more, possibly the very existence of the company, with a coverup (plus risk jailtime, massive lawsuits, as well as lives of family and friends). I don’t even like Toyota that much..

    FYI, from what I read it most likely is some software issue and so I would not be surprised if other carmakers had, have or will have some similar issues. Our cars are increasingly drive by wire and though that has a lot of benefits including safety such as steering response, anti-lock brakes, airbags, fuel economy, etc – it opens up another avenue of risk. Just something for you to consider as you drive even a non-Toyota car.

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