Toyota's Bad Day

Ken Elias
by Ken Elias
toyota s bad day

It might be a bad day for GM but it’s a much worse one for Toyota. Really. The days (decades, really) of weak domestic manufacturers shooting themselves in the foot with bad design, poor assembly, and non-existent customer satisfaction in passenger cars are coming to an end. Toyota didn’t have to outrun the bear, it just had to stay ahead of GM, Ford, and Chrysler. Years of producing huge profits in North America hit the wall for Toyota in 2009, and they’re likely not to return. Ever. The game has now changed—and it’s not good for Toyota.

Thanks to US and Canadian taxpayer support, GM and Chrysler are about to get a new start. They’ll enjoy fresh balance sheets, with minimized legacy liabilities and serious money earmarked for new products. (The taxpayers are paying for Fiat to develop cars for North America; you didn’t really think that the Italians would take this risk on their own did you?) Ford, by dint of luck or smart management, borrowed what it needed years ago to make the transformation outside of court oversight.

By the end of this year, all three Detroit automakers will be restructured, resized to match production with demand, and re-energized. They will reenter the market as the lowest cost producers inside the U.S. market, with slimmer, trimmer product lines. These automakers are getting ever-closer to 100 percent capacity utilization.

Looking at product, Ford’s passenger car line up just keeps getting better. The 2010 Taurus looks hot, the Fiesta test drive campaign is generating good press with the Twitter/Facebook crowd, and a new Euro Focus will be here in a two years. Slowly but surely, more Americans are considering a Ford passenger vehicle. Its trucks still lead the category and will continue to do so. Better products, increasing quality, and slowly increasing market share is building FoMoCo momentum.

GM’s go forward brands—Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, and Cadillac—still have some vehicles that don’t cut the mustard with consumers. But the balance is starting to tip back towards the positive. The Malibu and Camaro represent some better efforts. The gorgeous new Buick Lacrosse might give the new Taurus a run for the money. Cadillac will extend the CTS line and bring a new SRX to the market shortly. The Corvette still leads the pack in dollar performance value. And maybe, just maybe, the Cruze and Viva will live up to GM hype machine.

GM’s perhaps two to three years behind Ford with its product development cycle. But it can now concentrate on fewer models. Recent successful launches suggest that GM just needs time to plug the holes for the weak sisters. It now has the money to do so and you can bet (if you’re taxpayer, you already have) that the efforts on fuel efficient passenger cars will receive the bulk of the dollar spend. GM won’t abandon trucks (no matter what Nancy Pelosi thinks) and volume wise, GM leads.

Chrysler can’t do anything under their new pasta-fed management until the re-tooled imports arrive here for production two years hence. Its cars still (mostly) suck, except for the higher-performance versions of its LX cars. But it isn’t going away and will still find some buyers for its products at the pace of the recent past. So this company will just hang on . . . and on . . . and on.

Now, stop and think about this. What has Toyota done for you lately? Is there one single passenger car from Toyota that excites you?

Let’s keep the new Prius out of this discussion for the moment; it’s not a car for drivers but techno-geeks and greens mostly with excitement provided by the fuel gauge, not vehicle dynamics. The Camry might lead the C/D class in sales for now, but will this continue? What happens when Americans actually consider a Malibu or Fusion-based product instead? In terms of design appeal, the Camry looks dowdy or boring (take your pick) and its reliability isn’t any better than the Fusion. Put a four-cylinder EcoBoost engine in that Fusion and Ford wins.

Go through the rest of Toyota’s passenger car line up and compare each vehicle to the current and near future offerings from GM and Ford. The question is: will Toyota customers do the same?

Toyota (or Honda) products have been the default choice. That “Easy Button” is starting to get harder to press for buyers. Yep, Americans will begin to come back to consider Detroit products (at least GM and Ford), and that’s not good for Toyota. And we’ve really never left Detroit for our big pickups and SUVs, whle the Japanese are still mostly playing catch up.

Yep, it’s a bad day for Toyota and a great day for America. You can look forward to a new Detroit that will be competitive, if not lead, in cars and trucks for mass market Americans. Count on it.

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2 of 102 comments
  • MaintenanceCosts We need cheaper batteries. This is a difficult proposition at $50k base/$60k as tested but would be pretty compelling at $40k base/$50k as tested.
  • Scott ?Wonder what Toyota will be using when they enter the market?
  • Fred The bigger issue is what happens to the other systems as demand dwindles? Will thet convert or will they just just shut down?
  • Roger hopkins Why do they all have to be 4 door??? Why not a "cab & a half" and a bit longer box. This is just another station wagon of the 21st century. Maybe they should put fake woodgrain on the side lol...
  • Greg Add me to the list: 2017 Sorento EX AWD w/2.0 Turbo GDI 68K miles. Changed oil religiously with only synthetic. Checked oil level before a rare long road trip and Ievel was at least 2 quarts down. That was less than 6 months after the last oil change. I'm now adding a quart of oil every 1000 miles and checking every 500 miles because I read reports that the oil usage gets worse. Too bad, really like the 2023 Tuscon. But I have not seen Hyundai/Kia doing anything new in terms of engine development. Therefore, I have to suspect that I will ony become a victim of a fatally flawed engine development program if I were to a purchase another Kia/Hyundai.