Two Faced Toyota?
Trivia buffs, scholars of ancient history and encyclopedia-reading geeks know the first month of the year is named for the Roman god Janus. Janus didn’t have any special powers. His entire claim to fame was based on having two faces, one on the front of his head and one on the back. Since Janus could keep an eye on what was coming as well as what was going, he was placed in charge of gates and doors, transitions, and beginnings and endings. Being two faced also meant he could talk out of two mouths at the same time. Kinda like Toyota.
Toyota spends millions of dollars touting themselves as the automotive equivalent of the Sierra Club. They’re out to save the planet with their Hybrid Synergy Drive and put OPEC sheiks on the public dole with their fuel sipping econoboxes. They’re so magnanimous they’re sharing their hybrid technology with Ford and Nissan (and anyone else willing to pay the price).
Toyota’s even bragging that their new manufacturing plants will produce no waste to clog the landfills. Yes, the birds are singing in the trees and daisies are blooming in the meadows thanks to Toyota. And then there’s the Tundra.
Toyota makes no bones about it: they want to be a major player in America’s lucrative full-size pickup market. After years of twiddling their toes in the water with a size 30-slim Tundra, they finally cowboyed-up and built them a gen-u-ine giant. The new Toyota Tundra is every bit as gi-normous and gluttonous as the Dodge Rams, Chevrolet Silverados and Ford F150's it faces.
And they’re promoting it heavily. Over three-quarters of Toyota's NAIAS stand was dedicated to the Tundra. The display featured the he-man image the Japanese automaker wants to associate with their mega machine. And you can bet the Tundra’s advertising budget will be equal to or greater than that of their tree-hugger specials. Combined.
Meanwhile, Toyota’s playing footsie with federal regulations. Their Texas-built pickup hits dealer showrooms in February– at the same time other manufacturers are beginning to introduce some of their 2008 models. But Toyota is adamant the new Tundra is an ’07. That’s because the U.S. government is changing the way they calculate the fuel mileage ratings for ‘08 model year pickups.
The new procedures will make the numbers on the window sticker more realistic (i.e. lower). ToMoCo can’t risk lower numbers against competition’s higher-rated ’07 models. They’ll get to display the higher numbers for a few months before the (unchanged) ’08 models go on sale this fall with ratings 8 to 12 percent lower than the ‘07s.
As you can imagine, Toyota’s heavy emphasis on their new gas-guzzling leviathan hasn’t gone unnoticed by auto-oriented environmentalists. In fact, environmental groups are finally facing reality: their automotive eco-darling is (gasp!) nothing more than a business. A business that conforms to all CAFE regulations, of course, but will do whatever it takes to make a profit.
Some environmentalists are none-too-pleased to discover Toyota’s enviro-friendly posture was based more on marketing and profits than saving the planet. The greenies are indignant, and they're striking back.
Backed by groups like the Rainforest Action Network, The Freedom From Oil Campaign (FFOC) has put Toyota on notice: no more “free pass.” According to an FFOC statement, the group's launching a new campaign designed to ensure that “auto makers are taking the interim steps needed to show that they are truly committed to fuel economy and not just good PR.”
While commending Toyota for its past record for fuel economy, they’ve added the transplant to their list of targets. It may not be long before the FFOC organizes pickets outside Toyota dealerships, as they’ve done at Ford dealerships. The Toyota Tundra could become the tree-hugger's next lightning rod, replacing the (so-ten-minutes-ago) Hummer H2.
You have to wonder why it took environmentalists this long to see the light (heavy?). Toyota’s trucks have never been what you’d call “parsimonious” with petrol. The automotive press has consistently panned their two hybrid SUVs for their disappointing real world fuel economy. Once the 2008 testing procedures are in place, it’ll be interesting to see where Toyota falls on the charts and how the more realistic numbers will affect opinions of their greenmobiles.
As a company that exploits its environmental responsibility, Toyota can't be pleased to find the eco-radicals on their case. The company will have to spin like a whirling dervish to handle the fallout. I’m confident, though, that they’ll pull out all the stops to protect their green rep. I can see it now: “Clean air for oxygen breathers courtesy of Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive and carbon dioxide for plant life by the Toyota Tundra. We have the ecosystem covered!” Janus would be smiling– on both sides of his head.
More by Frank Williams
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