Toyota once enjoyed a sterling corporate image, one that boasted of environmental stewardship and quality that put the Japanese carmaker heads above the competition.
Its fuel-efficient Prius cars were the rage among greenies from Seattle to Berkeley from Boston to Washington, D.C. Those Prius owners now feel betrayed as Toyota does its best to torpedo efforts here to increase fuel efficiency standards. The only question: Will they smash their Prius cars as Michigan Congressmen did during the `80s to protest the tide of imports?
Toyota is the target of a campaign launched Oct. 11 by nine environmental groups to expose its duplicity on fuel standards. While Toyota basked in a Prius green halo, its lobbyists were working the halls of Congress to dash the effort to hike fuel economy standards to 35-mile per gallon fleetwide by '20.
Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, warned Toyota that if it expects to be considered environmentally friendly it better quit opposing better mileage requirements. The enviro groups have launched TruthAboutToyota.com to make their case, and ran an ad in USA Today ridiculing Toyota’s claim that it “operates under a global Earth charter that promotes environmental responsibility.” That claim turned out to be a lot of baloney.
Toyota’s turnaround is timed with its all-out race to become the world’s No. 1 carmaker. It recently passed Ford and is catching up on General Motors. In its quest for bigness, Toyota has become unhinged from its core values.
Quality is down
The green backlash is but one of Toyota’s worries. Consumer Reports today released its reliability rankings study that found the Toyota nameplate has plunged from No. 1 to No. 3 on the list.
Toyota’s flagship, Camry, led the quality crack-up, getting a “poor reliability” rating from owners. Adding insult to injury, CR can no longer assure that future Camrys will get at least an “average” rating from owners.
There is a growing “buzz” that Detroit is on the comeback trial. CR, for instance, reports quality improvements by GM, Chrysler, and especially Ford.
The U.S. trio has ironed out contract concessions that put their United Auto Workers pretty much on par with wages/benefits earned by non-union workers at the Japanese transplant companies. Ford is expected to sign a similar deal. There are no more excuses. It is time to deliver the cars that Americans want.
The Detroit Free Press reports the 30-year Detroit critic, Maryann Keller, an influential Wall Street analyst, has now grown sweet on Motown.
"The UAW and Big 3 have finally figured out how to save each other and create a headache for the Japanese,” she told the paper.
It is a good time to give American cars another look.