The bureaucrats and politicians in Washington are out to get Toyota because of ongoing recalls of the Japanese automaker’s popular vehicles. The House held one hearing yesterday, and another is scheduled for today. Toyota also is target of a U.S. criminal probe and a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation.
That leaves Toyota owners like me in the predicament of choosing the bad guy in this scenario. Toyota may not be the good guy, but given the choice between incompetent government and a private company with a solid track record, I pick the government as the one to wear the black hat.
Japan is a great place for consumer product safety in the sense that its manufacturers generally turn out reliable merchandise; however, it’s not such a great place for consumer product safety when the inevitable problems arise, because the legal and social systems overwhelmingly favor the powerful, income-producing corporation over the individual citizen with a grievance. The domestic Mitsubishi Motors and Mitsubishi Fuso scandals cooked for years, and the reason wasn’t incompetence or conscious callousness, exactly. It was more that dealing responsibly with field failures requires that unpalatable realities be dealt with actively, and, in general, the Japanese way of dealing with unpalatable realities is to push them to the side and hope they resolve themselves.
I noted a few weeks ago that at least one automotive writer had argued that the actual product defects behind the Toyota recall were unlikely to have been caused by indiscriminate cost cutting or sloppy quality downgrading. I’m no automotive expert, but that rings true to me. Toyota well knows that it got to its current position by producing reliable products. Accordingly, it seems to have committed its biggest blunders in not dealing squarely with problems once they emerged, not in trying to coast on its reputation while passing off junk on unwary consumers.
That doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve to get spanked. It does. But it’s hard to take the high-mindedness of Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, legislators from Michigan, and UAW flacks at face value, given the stake they have in improving Detroit’s wretched reputation. Everyone looks bad here, but I agree that the entity with the greatest probability of addressing its systemic flaws is, in fact, Toyota.
Added on 25 February: This guy writes a long post that ends with a YouTube video of a pop song that, at least in his own head, is kind of related to the topic.
And it’s a New Order song.
Were we separated at birth, or something?
Anyway, I like this paragraph (note use of vainglorious, one of my favorite words):
I have more faith in Toyota to build safe, reliable cars than I do in congress to manage my health care. The elaborate kabuki of congress grilling Toyota executives for answers to complex engineering problems that they cannot possibly understand does little to help me quantify my own risk. Or to trust that the government is at all competent to manage anything more complex than non-time-sensitive, home delivery of small envelopes. It’s precisely the addiction to preening before the cameras, incessant fear-mongering, and vainglorious speechifying that makes me trust the government less. How can I trust them to provide health care when I can’t even get a straight, factual, and disinterested answer to a straight-forward and well understood engineering problem: is my car safe or not?
Well, the government isn’t disinterested, which seems to explain a lot of what’s going on at the moment.