February 24, 2010
Oh, Toyota’s got trouble alright…Trouble with a capital “T.”
By Peter M. De Lorenzo
(Posted 2/23, 7:30PM) Detroit. It would be very easy to pile on Toyota at this point, because it has certainly brought most – if not all – of its current problems upon itself. Though I have been an ardent and vociferous critic of Toyota in the past because of its relentlessly bland transportation appliances; its borderline sick obsession with foisting itself off as an “American” car company while attempting to weasel its way into the American fabric at every opportunity; its smug air of superiority while coldly and calculatingly courting the “Green” intelligentsia - and their patron saint Tom Friedman - in order to be viewed as the environmental savior that will solve all of our problems if only we – as a nation – would just acquiesce and hand over the keys to the American market; the blatant manipulation of the Washington political establishment through a shrewd series of lobbying maneuvers that go well beyond the pale even by D.C. standards in terms of the depth and breadth of its efforts; and its home government’s willful manipulation of its currency to help Toyota exploit every advantage while competing in this market - just to name a few things that stick in my craw - it’s clear to me that the Washington ass-whipping this week is eerily similar to the one that took place in December 2008, when the top executives of the then Detroit Three were called on the carpet for a plethora of sins, both real and imagined...
And now that Toyota finds itself caught in this swirling maelstrom of out-of-control Washington D.C.-fueled hysteria - which admittedly has been compounded by its own hubris, bad or non-decisions and its failure to get out in front of this image-wrangling thing – I feel almost the same way I did back when the Detroit executives were hammered, pummeled, humiliated and generally dumped upon by a posse of wimps and twerps masquerading as our country’s Best and Brightest.
To say that Washington politicos thrive on the circus of it all above absolutely everything else - including objectivity, facts, etc., - is stating the obvious. When they comfortably operate, connive and cajole in the relative obscurity of their own friendly confines, I imagine it’s real nice to get out in front of “the people” and flex their muscles now and again. After all, when the majority of your waking hours are devoted to justifying your existence, how could you possibly let the intoxicating opportunity for some good old-fashioned self-righteous chest-thumping pass you by? Especially when it comes at the expense of corporate America, er, Japan?
The Washington political establishment is frighteningly aligned with the mentality that drives the geniuses down in Daytona Beach who rule over NASCAR, as in, it’s all about “The Show.” Start with some controversy, mix in some pathos, work the David (the “little people”) vs. Goliath (the “evil” corporate empire) angle, and voila! Ladies and gents, you’ve got yourself a show!
I am reminded of Robert Preston’s brilliant portrayal of Professor Harold Hill in The Music Man, when he exhorts the townsfolk of River City about the trouble that’s about to befall them if they let their young people hang out in a pool hall…
Ya got trouble,
Right here in River city!
With a capital "T"
And that rhymes with "P"
And that stands for Pool.
We've surely got trouble!
Right here in River City!
Remember the Maine, Plymouth Rock and the Golden Rule!
Oh, we've got trouble.
We're in terrible, terrible trouble.
Toyota has trouble alright, with a capital “T” and that means that a lot of ill-qualified hacks in Washington are going to step up to the microphone and expound on all the things they don’t know, or understand, or even have the faintest of clues as to what they’re talking about, for that matter.
But the grandstanding and public hand-wringing in Washington is not going to solve anything. Not even close. Oh, it will help our attention-starved politicians get their TV on, but that’s about it.
The harsh reality for Toyota is that it went too far overboard in striving to become the biggest, baddest car company on earth. And in the course of their quest they literally abandoned damn near everything that got them to the point of being a true corporate juggernaut to begin with.
The Toyota “Way”? It went right out the window as soon as they started planning new assembly facilities at the same time they were still finishing plants that weren’t even up and running yet. The “old” Toyota would never do that. The “old” Toyota would take their sweet time in making sure that a new facility was every bit as focused and dialed-in as their best facilities. If it wasn’t, it simply didn’t open until it was.
But the “new” Toyota started skipping steps and compressing timelines. And the details started slipping through the cracks. People – engineers, managers, manufacturing types – were schooled in the Toyota Way, but in the company’s breakneck, accelerated pace to eclipse GM as the world’s largest automaker it didn’t sink in. There simply wasn’t enough time to let it sink in either.
Communication broke down, both internally in Japan and externally to the troops in the U.S. The Toyota Way wasn’t the focus of the organization any longer. Classic Toyota descriptors such as “quality,” “reliability” and “durability” were replaced with words like “units,” “volume,” “production plan acceleration” and “domination” of markets.
Pretty soon the citizens of the “new” Toyota outnumbered the experienced and historically reverent “old” citizens of Toyota, and the whole thing veered off track in a horrendous train wreck now being picked over by our illustrious representatives in Washington.
Yes, Toyota brought this down upon itself. They made mistakes, and then they made more mistakes when they compounded their original mistakes by their calculated obfuscation, their corporate insularity - their utter lack of understanding and grasp of this image “thing” as it applies to the media-saturated U.S. market and how their stonewalling PR tactic wasn’t a tactic at all but a self-destructive act of dumping fuel on the fire - and finally their almost manic unwillingness to realize that the vacuum they are comfortable operating in isn’t necessarily one that will fly in the wider world.
Does Toyota have a problem with their electrical systems? I don’t even pretend to know. But it’s too bad that no one and I mean no one in Washington - whether they are senators, congress persons, self-proclaimed “expert” witnesses or anyone else for that matter - can admit that they don’t know either.
And all the table-pounding, strident “yes” or “no” questions, mealy-mouthed soliloquies, teary story-telling, blatant political pontificating and nonsensical mutterings aren’t going to get us any closer to finding out, either.
Oh, Toyota’s got trouble alright…Trouble with a capital “T.”
But a witch hunt is a witch hunt, in any language.
That’s all I got for this week.
See another live episode of "Autoline After Hours" hosted by Autoline Detroit's John McElroy, with Peter De Lorenzo and friends this Thursday evening, at 7:00PM EDT at www.autolinedetroit.tv.
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