Hammer Time: Toyota: A (Cross Out Smart) Safe Choice

hammer time toyota a cross out smart safe choice

I drove a Toyota Camry for 12 years and 239k miles. My two brothers also drove Camrys. My mother drove a Camry. Even my father drove a Lexus that was just a gussied-up Camry. All these Camrys were bought because there was a time when Toyota offered a car that truly few others could match. Quality, longevity, durability. They seemed to always be two clicks above the competition in virtually all respects. But now, it’s a very different story.

Most cars will last well over 200k miles these days. Issues? Sure there’s Chrysler- and the Daewoo-derived offerings. But Ford, Nissan, and even once lowly Hyundai now offer excellent quality with typically more features for a very fair price. Toyota has been on what can kindly be called a decontenting and blandification spree these days. The former is what everyone does to varying degrees, and Toyota was actually once the true expert at hiding automotive cheapness.

These days, most of the “nice” interiors in a given car class are simply not from a Toyota. A Fit and Versa have far nicer accommodations than a Yaris. Civics and Jettas . . . heck, even a Suzuki SX4 exudes more interior forethought than a Corolla. So where does this leave Toyota?

In my humble opinion, they’re headed nowhere fast. Scion has become a failed brand with cars that look a bit like pregnant lizards. The social equity that the first generation xB and tC have been replaced with overweight blobs that really don’t attract anyone but those few looking for a safe and pseudo-youthful Toyota. If Toyota doesn’t stop trying to inflate Japanese-styled cars for the American market, Scion will become a damaged brand.

The non-youthful Camry has effectively become a Buick. It’s a safe choice. A big car. But it doesn’t offer even a minute level of excitement and involvement that a Fusion, Altima, or Accord can offer. Ditto for the Corolla versus anything else out there that isn’t being made by a nearly bankrupt offering. SUVs and minivans? Toyota still has IT here. But those are niches where profits and volume are few and far between.

Finally, we have Lexus.

I’ll say it right now. If Hyundai ever learns how to market the Genesis, Lexus will be in trouble. If Mercedes ever gets their quality act together and starts winning awards, Lexus won’t have a prayer. The former has the means to undercut Toyota and will gladly do so in order to gain marketshare. Mercedes still has a stronger prestige pedigree in the states and their cars are finally re-integrating the driving experience that made their cars so successful until the mid-1990s. A Mercedes sedan now involves drivers (thank God). Coupes and convertibles? Lexus hasn’t offered a remotely competitive product for over a decade.

We may be coming to a point in the market where offering a “quality” reputation simply isn’t enough. If that’s the case, the Toyota recipe for success will be in desperate need of some extra ingredients.

Join the conversation
2 of 90 comments
  • Rev Junkie Rev Junkie on May 06, 2009

    I genuinely believe that Hyundai is replacing Toyota as the best choice for the average consumer. My perception of Hyundai/Kia has drastically changed since my Mom bought an '06 Spectra. It's solidly built, has been completely reliable, can be very economical, I once got 45mpg out of it, good interior room, and basically drives like a Camry: relaxing, cosseting, but completely passionless. And I have driven a Camry, and it's basically the same thing, only smaller: a quality-built, dependable, comfortable, but altogether boring appliance. The Hyundai wins because it is cheaper, and has plentiful incentives, because of its lousy reputation.

  • Ctoan Ctoan on May 07, 2009

    I don't know about you folks, but I have to get to work, and so do most people. An unreliable car is a luxury. If the economy continues to do what it's doing, I see reliability becoming more important than ever.

  • Terelaad The entire plant is just a toy for the rich.
  • Seanx37 If it made economic sense, it would have happened decades ago. No one would insure such places. And few are going to take $60-150k electric cars off road unless they are very wealthy
  • MaintenanceCosts Seems pretty obvious that they're leaving room for a SRT with the 2.0T and the electric motor. The R/T will probably be slower than the GT given the extra weight, but without the 9-speed it will be a much nicer drive.
  • Art Vandelay Lawyers would Eff it up. That and the NIMBYS. I agree with you, but it ain't gonna happen
  • EBFlex They are getting rid of the Charger and Challenger for a modern day Neon?just end it Dodge, you had a great run