Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Death by a thousand cuts

When I last left you on the subject of the Toyota recall my sudden acceleration problem was "corrected" or so said the president of Toyota USA. Two fixes by my dealer had me driving with confidence that my quality vehicle was returned to excellent performance.

Not so fast. Another Toyota Limited Service Campaign (LSC) notice showed up in my mail this week; in the same envelope with the two Safety Recall notices about the floor mat interference and accelerator pedal problems. I had short cut the formal recalls actions on my own to effect the corrective action. This new LSC deals with a possible leaking oil supply hose that needs to be replaced.

Media reports suggested the leaking oil problem was not serious enough for a recall. But wait a minute; Toyota may have known about this for several years. I used to lease my Camrys, rolling them over every three years. Going back two leases I remember that the dealer salesman and his service manager placed emphasis on my sticking to the maintenance schedule, as it related to oil changes. It used to annoy me that they were always reminding me to have the oil checked, as if it was my problem; I faithfully took the car in every 5000 miles, as recommended, so why worry about oil problems. On my new one I can't forget the oil change as it shows up as an annoying display that gets more obnoxious the more I ignore it. Then one day in a doctor's office, scanning an old automotive magazine I ran across a letter to the editor commenting on this same concern with oil, and shortly thereafter Consumer Reports, that unbiased reviewer of automobiles, cautioned about possible undefined oil problems with certain Camrys with no details.

Here it is several years later and Toyota is now acknowledging that as far back as 2005 they had oil hose leaking problems. What's next Toyota, a recall for the entire car? And in the Wall Street Journal I read that the president and CEO of Toyota blames unnamed profit-hungry executives who put bottom line ahead of quality at the company. But, in a gesture that I have often applauded with others, he took full blame; you know, that old 'captain of the ship' analogy.

On my first trip to Japan, I was advised by my employer (at the time a multi-national conglomerate) that I had no worries while traveling there. One of the corporation's subsidiaries was a personal loan company with offices in cities throughout the world and especially in Japan where they were said to be on every street corner. "If you ever have a problem or need cash, just go to one of our branches, show your company ID, and they will take care of you." How that eases your mind when traveling in a foreign country for the first time.

The only problem, literally as I was boarding the plane for Tokyo, a massive scandal rocked Japan and the government in power at the time. It had to do with some illegal payments to certain officials involved in major purchase of an aircraft that had wings fabricated by a division of my company. The scandal was so deep that it brought down the political party in power, and the top executives for the airline and government involved actually were imprisoned.

So here I come, feeling that my Big Brother company has me covered and will watch over me as I navigate a strange country. Arriving in Tokyo and reading the newspaper I learn my company is so disgraced by the scandal they shut down all the loan offices, eventually pulling out of the country altogether.

It was my first experience with a culture that valued "face" to the extent that a disgraced executive has been known to make the supreme sacrifice as a demonstration of his shame. Over the next few years I was to see more of this where "the buck stops here" had major consequences.

I thought about this as the CEO of Toyota made his mea culpas before the U.S. Senate and the government in China. The consequences of the mess at Toyota are unknown because every day we are treated to new revelations. How he must feel that all is not yet revealed.

On one trip to Japan in 1979 I was mugged by some young hoodlums as I left Tokyo Main Station on a Friday evening after returning by train from Hiroshima. Several railroad workers came to my aid, helping me pick up my briefcase, suitcase, rain coat, and other packages that had been scattered in the street gutter. One of the workers, apologizing for the embarrassment this criminal act caused, said he didn't know what his county was coming to, and that youth had no respect anymore.

Recounting this to associates at dinner the next evening I said I was sad to see so much emulation of America in a country I admired for its culture, and I was sorry that they not only copied the good but also the bad from my country. And now I read that greedy executives (where have I heard this before) may have been the cause for a great company losing its moral direction. Déjà vu all over again.

1 comment:

  1. My son owns a '98 Toyota Corolla the engine in that Corolla had to be replaced because the front dampner pulley came apart (rubber from steel). This allowed part of the pulley to rub into the front of the engine block where the crankshaft emerges. Three months later, the used engine he replaced it with had the same separation in the pulley. He replaced that pulley with a "good" used pulley, three months later same problem. He bought a new after market pulley and has not had a problem with that one. Now granted the car had over 100k miles the first time, and probably the used pulleys on subsequent replacement could have similar age. I have never heard of that failure in any paper, broadcast, or commentary. I propose that if we had that the problem would have been attributed to the Geo Prism (same driveline was used by GM). All cars have thier individual problems. How those problems are handle was a big difference in the 70's and 80's looks like Toyota can't hide them any longer.