By on January 26, 2010

A quarter century ago, give or take a year, my brother Paul became the first in the family to drive a Toyota. A 1984 Toyota Celica-Supra. It was a true shifting of gears for the Lang Gang. Everyone up to that time had bought a GM. Mom and Dad drove Cadillacs (only one saw 100k). The eldest one had a Monte Carlo (a.k.a. Crapo) that didn’t see the road half the time. Second in line had a Regal (a.k.a. the dying diesel) that ended up stolen and trashed in the Grand Canyon. He actually felt sorry for the Canyon.  Within three years both these Roger Smith specials were replaced with 1988 Celica GT’s. Great cars with no nicknames necessary. Three years later I had a Celica GT-S sitting on my driveway. Even better. Still no nicknames. By the end of the decade everyone in the family had a Toyota. But then things changed…

Toyota’s quality took a sharp U-Turn and unintentionally accelerated towards the ‘decontenting’ highway starting in the late-90’s. The 1997 Camry, 1998 Corolla, and pretty much every other Toyota that wasn’t a luxury car or first generation (RAV-4 and Sienna) went straight to the crematorium of cost cutters. “Affordability is the No.1 priority,” said the 1997 Camry chief engineer Kosaku Yamada. “The Camry is not a luxury car.” and so it became the harbinger of things to come.

The fourth generation Camry (1997 – 2001) in fact became number one. Not just by beating the Accord and Taurus. But by crushing them into a fine red mist for its entire model run. This was Toyota’s first truly competitive ‘decontented’ model and the net result was about $1500 to $2000 per vehicle. Multiply that by the nearly 2 million Camrys that went out the door and Toyota had finally found it’s true cash cow. ‘Cost improvement’ instead of ‘decontenting’ became a big part of the Toyota way.

Some of the decontenting was based on the reduction of parts. Front bumper clips and components were reduced from 57 to 15. The doors triple seal rubber in the prior generation gave way to a single seal. Others were a bit more pronounced. The dashboard material felt a bit cheaper compared with the old model. Items that were once power, such as the antenna, became manual. Bulbs became cheaper. The engine bay became a little less ostentatious. The biggest issue though became the increased incidences of engine sludge inside the 2.2L four and 3.0L V6. Toyota would eventually have over 3.5 million engines subject to the settlement. This would be Toyota’s first real black eye on the media front  along with 10 safety recalls during this generation’s model run. Judging on the feedback from owner enthusiast sites around the net, the ‘real’ customer satisfaction ratings also started to take a beating.

At the time of the Camry’s release in 1997, still had an ironclad reputation to fall back on. Go to and look up the Toyotas that came before that time. A 1990 to 1996 ‘anything’ with the name Toyota on it was literally two clicks above anything else save the occasional Civic or Accord. You couldn’t kill these models once you turned the key. Even when my beloved Celica GT-S was hit by a meat truck driven by a drunk Greek, the underpowered engine kept right on ticking away. I’m sure someone’s using that engine somewhere.

But damn were Toyotas expensive before the ‘decontenting’ period. In 1994 I could not get a Camry with ABS to replace the Celica for less than $20,000 retail in my neck of the woods. We’re not talking MSRP…. but retail… before tax, tag and title. I should know because I eventually had to go several states away to find one close to that price. That one has lasted 280k+… but Toyota’s problem was that folks simply didn’t buy on the perception of quality alone. Price, features, and performance were the elixirs for most car buyers of the time. Toyota had flashes of greatness with features (Lexus LS and SC) and performance (Supra). But the big P was where Toyota simply didn’t have it anywhere in their line-up.

Part of the fault was with the Yen. Toyota couldn’t make the big jump from being the ‘quality champion’ to ‘sales champion’ because their cars were just too expensive out the door if they were sourced and built in Japan. Honda offered a smaller and cheaper Accord that was heavily sourced in America by the early-90s. Ford had a Taurus that was corner cut and subsidized by everything from rental car companies to an absurdly ancient powertrain. While Toyota would offer families a $20,000 Camry with ABS. You could far more easily get one from Ford that was $4,000 cheaper… the Accord was $2,000 cheaper. Both of them were well thought of in the marketplace with Honda’s Accord being the retail sales chamption.

Unfortunately for Toyota, that wasn’t even the half of it. The bigger problem was Toyota itself. It was old. As in lifetime employment, perhaps one quarter of their corporate employees hanging out and reading newspapers old. Maryann Keller had written a book pretty much highlighting the fact that Toyota’s bureaucracy was riddled with a conservative and intensely loyal faithful that made ‘The Toyota Way’ front and center. But by the time 1997 reared it’s head, they were pulling down big salaries with little to do.

To make matters worse, Toyota really couldn’t stop spending once it fell in love with an idea. The 1st generation Lexus SC400 was the perfect example of this cost no object approach. Toyota wanted to build a coupe that was completely different from the conventional styles of the time. All curves, no flat edges, no flat surfaces. It was done… but the costs for developing the body stamps and assembly line technologies went well into the mid-hundreds of millions. Throw in the the SC 400’s 4.0 L V8 1UZ-FE engine which reportedly cost over $400 million, and Toyota had a billion dollar financial bomb in it’s hand. Even though the Lexus SC would beloved and sought after by many, few were willing to pay for a luxury coupe whose price would rise from $40k to nearly $60k within a single generation.

The period right up to 1996 represented a very unique point in time for Toyota. They could offer customers a great car. But oftentimes the engineering prowess would simply run roughshod over the financial realities of the marketplace. The same unprofitable fate for the SC would eventually be true for other Toyota models. The eight year run of the pathetically spartan Tercel, the tin can mid-1990’s Toyota Corolla, even arguably the last generation Supra. Toyota simply wasn’t the leader in any particular segment when it came to offering value in the marketplace.

By the late-1990’s Toyota was all too ready to move in a more profitable direction. A shift that would be heavily based on replacing the ‘Q’ word with the $ sign.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

83 Comments on “Hammer Time: The Toyota Reality...”

  • avatar

    I remember shaking my head when I read a comment in Car and Driver back in the 90s and a Toyota exec proudly referred to himself as the “Cheap Engineer”.

  • avatar

    “Toyota’s quality took a sharp U-Turn and unintentionally accelerated towards the ‘decontenting’ highway ”

    I can’t recall reading better writing! Way to go to the mat for Toyota!


  • avatar

    I bought a 2002 camry based on co-workers previous generation camry’s. Q and P were replaced with D and $ and five years later when a main drive bearing blew up, I threw it away. Couldn’t believe a new car could make me miss my beat to hell B2200 (I still do miss it).

    Cost structure in Japan, built (sustained) on a weak yen and the ability to price cars higher based on (real) perception of quality. The Yen advantage is gone (now a disadvantage), other’s have caught up with quality (while toyota’s slips) and the cost structure is still there, untouched (Toyota’s 1970 is at hand, will the 2010’s become thier 1980’s? Don’t know, but we get to watch:).

  • avatar

    My parents had a 1991 Tercel. It wasn’t a bad car, but it was evident that there was cost cutting going on. Keep in mind this was the “deluxe” model and they paid around $13000 Canadian for this thing in 1991.

    One item in particular was the result of either stupidity, or cost cutting. It was the cover that went over the spare tire in the trunk. From what I remember, it was made out of something like 1/8″ or maybe 1/4″ hardboard/MDF material. And there was nothing to reinforce it. So if you put heavy things in the trunk above the spare tire, it would bow and break eventually. I think the Toyota dealer replaced it about 3 times.

    When they first got it, water collected in the rear doors whenever it rained and we could hear it sloshing around. Not a normal sound… Took it to the dealer and they had to pull some plugs out of the bottom or something like that. They only kept it for 3 years (replaced it with a ’94 Accord). So I don’t know how it would have held up long-term.

    • 0 avatar

      My 2007 Camry V6 XLE ($30K US out the door) had the same flimsy hardboard trunk floor over the spare tire. Mine was broken on delivery, and broke again twice. This was partly due to the car having a donut spare instead of a full size spare, resulting in less support under the floor. Junk.

  • avatar

    Toyota’s quality took a sharp U-Turn and unintentionally accelerated towards the ‘decontenting’ highway starting in the late-90’s.

    This is actually very true, and I’m glad you’re pointing it out. Much of the forum prognostication pin the blame on Toyota and Honda’s fall in the 2000s, but the cars built in that decade are actually better than the decontenting-era vehicles that precedes them. It was painful, and it did reflect in their reliability rankings, but it was also about ten years earlier than armchair analysts think it is and it’s more or less been addressed.

    Most cars from this period (from any marque) do show some decontenting, but you could feel it in Toyota’s products. It didn’t really matter, though, that the Taurus had better door seals or the Focus a more sophisticated suspension, because the Camry and Corolla were still more reliable.

    • 0 avatar

      By the 2000s era of Toyota and Honda you’re referring to principally the 03 Camry, the 03 Accord, the 01 Civic, and the 02 Corolla?

      What decontenting issues were addressed in these generations? For example, what was restored that was previously removed?

      Inquiring minds (need) to know.

    • 0 avatar

      My impression was they they got a handle on most of the deconenting-related issues by 2002-2005, depending on the model’s release cycle. If you look at, eg, Consumer Reports you can see a “blip” around 1997-2001 in both Honda and Toyota that levels off and starts to improve after that.

      Steven is right about value: the domestic-market depression and the yen’s value more or less made it impossible for Toyota (and the other Japanese makes) to offer value as a trump card. Decontenting was really the only way to go.

      The point I noticed was door seals: the Taurus, through this era, used triple-sealed doors where the Camry dropped to a single seal. I noticed the road noise, but as far as the average buyer was concerned, a Camry with a noisier, chintzier interior was preferable to a nicer Taurus whose transmission might spit parts.

      I’ve hammered on this point in the Toyota Quality discussions as of late: people will forgive decontenting if the trade-off is that the cost to own remains low. Toyota and Honda, more or less, understood that when they went through their decontenting exercises. Compare this with Chrysler and Nissan, who went through similar decontenting exercises about the same time but didn’t understand (or care) about the reliability factor.

    • 0 avatar

      When I met the electrical engineer for the battery on the Neon who was tasked with removing coatings on a series of critical connectors exposed to elements for savings of pennies, I knew it was time to get out. He was running a fleet of neons (~2002 time frame) to evaluate whether they would still start after the accelerated aging test. Pennies of savings at the risk of leaving the owner stranded.

    • 0 avatar


      A thing which further complicates the overall discussion and is well-illustrated by your door-seal example is: Who are the initial customers and how long do they hold their cars?

      An OEM designing for a retail customer that may hold the car longer, may put their money and design efforts into greater durability, while an OEM designing for a car for rental service, or to survive the lease period, may put their money into triple door seals.

      Not all customers are viewed the same … nor are their expectations.

    • 0 avatar

      I know a bit about the 2002 vs the 2001 Camry differences, as I’ve owned both. I traded a 1992 Camry that was a great car for a piece of junk 2001. I was so disgusted with it that I took a big loss and traded it a month later when the 2002 came out. I’m not convinced Toyota reversed decontenting trend then, but the interior quality appeared better. The ’02 had the following ’92 features that the ’01 lacked:

      * Return of pneumatic hood prop rod
      * Better dashboard & door panel construction/materials
      * Non-cheap looking instrument cluster
      * Body side molding, chrome strip on XLE
      * Half way through ’02 MY they upgraded the V6’s 4-spd transmission to a 5-spd
      (actually this is not a feature, considering the new trans was junk, but it’s the thought that counts)
      * More felt lining in trunk

      New stuff the ’02 had that the ’01 lacked:
      * Curtain air bags
      * Nav system
      * Rear sun shade
      * Non-nauseating exterior styling

      But, IIRC, the ’02 lost some of the ’01 features:

      * No full size spare
      * No automatic turn-on headlights
      * No power adjustable pedals

      Unsure of when these disappeared/reappeared:

      * Warning lamp for burned out tail lamps
      * Hidden trunk goosenecks

      Regarding quality: Both the ’01 and ’02 were crap compared to the ’92.

      As far as door seals go: Additional layers are not added for durability, they’re added to reduce wind noise. Going from 3 to 1 layer cuts costs at the expense of a noisier ride. Today’s Gen6 Camry has double door seals; the Lexus ES has triple seals.

  • avatar
    Dr. Nguyen Van Falk

    I have a Ford ZX2 with 62k on the clock. I got the car for free (THANK YOU CASH FOR CLUNKERS!) and don’t plan on getting rid of it for a long, long time. Even longer because there’s no car out there that is fun to drive, durable, and functional. The only car I’d consider buying new is a Hyundai Genesis Coupe 2.0T or Mazda Miata.

    -VW’s don’t last. I love the Golf and Jetta Sportwagon but they’re too much money for a car that won’t last and is a maintenance nightmare. Why can’t Germans build an electric system that works? They pride themselves on meticulous build quality and engineering right?
    -Toyotas are boring, ugly, and as reliable as GM now
    -GM is crap and neglects anyone who wants a small car, and judging from the German spec Cruise review, continues to neglect us. They also look like crap and feel numb. Except the Corvette.
    -Ford’s new Focus might be interesting if they tighten up the suspension like the Foci SVT of old.
    -Hondas are overpriced, overcooked, and over-styled. If only I could get a gen. 1 Fit new…
    -Scions are ugly crap
    -Kia might interest me if it strings together a few years of strong reliability
    -Chrysler is dead in the water. Having driven two pre-DCX Chryslers (a Jeep Cherokee that I loved, and a Durango I loathe) I’ll honestly say I’ll never own a Chrystler product ever again. And certainly not when it’s in bed with FIAT junk. Who though putting America’s and Europe’s least reliable brands together would turn out anything but more scrap on wheels?
    -Suzuki could interest me if it put out an updated Swift. It probably won’t though. The SX4 isn’t my cup of tea
    -Volvo C30 is very cool, but too expensive and a car manufacturer that’s in limbo scares me.
    -Subaru’s are nice, but I don’t need or want AWD and they keep softening up their suspension and making their cars obese.
    -Mini Coopers are a fashion statement, not a car.
    -Used BMW, MB, Audi are just laughable. Their maintenance costs and repair costs are insane. Also they’re usually piloted by smug people who think their extra cost gives them extra entitlement on the road.
    -Porsche…some day.

    I guess I’ll just hold out until there’s a car that I want. It might be a decade though. There’s no car maker out there that makes anything that I really want. I think they’re all forgetting that a car isn’t a necessity and it’s purchased with expendable income and to get people to spend their money on something that’s unnecessary, it has to be very, very desirable. There’s no sub-$25K out there that I find desirable.

    • 0 avatar

      Like was said a year or two ago here on TTAC, “if you need good, cheap transportation, you could do worse than an old Ford”.

    • 0 avatar

      I would hazard to guess that at least in the USA, a car is a necessity 80% of the time. There is no getting around Metro Detroit without a car, and the best things I ever got in life were free. Functionality of a ZX2 is pretty non-functional for a family of more than 2.

    • 0 avatar

      Well, Nguyen, I know it’s sometimes difficult to find anything that’s cosmically in tune with our precious bodily fluids, but I’m wondering if maybe you just don’t like cars, at all? That is, unless the government (ie fellow taxpayers) buys one for you.

    • 0 avatar

      s quite a list, Doc. Maybe a bicycle is in order.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Nguyen Van Falk

      Actually the government chipped in to buy my sister a car with my Jeep Cherokee while I inherited her ZX2. She got a Hyundai Accent, which is a surprisingly nice car, especially for a sub $10k price after C4C and incentives.

      I don’t dislike cars. I love cars actually. However, I live in Chicago, commute with my bike or public transit, live with my girlfriend and do not plan on having children for a long time, if ever. I know they are a necessity for most in the US, but why must they be so homogeneous? Why does Europe and Australia have a maddening array of vehicles to choose from while having less drivers on the road? I wish there was a car that I loved, but alas Porsche doesn’t make a Cayman with a GT3 motor in it and a Z06 is too damn much money. I don’t understand why such a huge car market is given a few choices of neutered cars.

      TV, computer, mp3 player, clothes, guitars, stereo equipment, and bicycles are all things that aren’t necessities but I own all of them and will continue to buy with my expendable income. It’s because they give me what I want with choices and performance. Granted, a car is more money, but if a car were available with what I want at a competitive price, I’d be much more inclined to buy one. I make enough to own a new car, I choose not to because they all suck or are unacceptably compromised in my opinion. I know a lot of people who are in my boat, but apparently not enough for manufacturers to notice.

      The Datsun 240Z CC underscores my lament. There was a time when there were compelling cars. There aren’t modern cars that I find compelling.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Nguyen Van Falk

      The following article is about the Mazda6 wagon…that’s not for the NA market.

      Damn! That’s a car i’d look at. Throw in a direct injection i4, maybe a turbo and a 6 speed and I’d buy it. I don’t really like the mazda 3 coupe or hatch.

      Maybe I’m just too picky, but I think when you’re parting with tens of thousands of dollars to get something that needs constant attention and has high operating expense, you have the right to be irritatingly nit-picky.

    • 0 avatar

      “Hondas are overpriced, overcooked, and over-styled. If only I could get a gen. 1 Fit new…”

      Not so, the Civic Si can be had new for $21k, and is fantastic, if tacky. The Fit is for those who pined for a minivan CRX, and the new one delivers in Sport spec, if you’re talking base model then I’d agree that the 1st gen is better.

      “VW’s don’t last”

      Not so sure about that, provided you are an educated buyer. I would buy a new GTI or Jetta 2.0T with confidence (but only that spec), and avoid the rest of the lineup entirely. I’m actually not sure if that counts as disagreement come to think about it.

      “Mini Coopers are a fashion statement, not a car.”

      Absolutely wrong. Mini’s are flat-out the best fwd small car available, especially those with the newer engines. The best compliment a small car can be payed is to compare it’s handling to the Mini’s, although always with the understanding that “like” dosen’t mean “as good as.” It really isn’t that overpriced either, at least if you lay off the options, or get a CPO.

      Otherwise I agree with your list, especially the observation about how expensive to run used German cars are.

    • 0 avatar

      “Mini Coopers are a fashion statement”, says the man who complains that cars are too homogeneous. So you want a car that’s different, but you don’t want it to be a fashion statement? Test drive a Mini before you diss them. They may not be Honda-reliable, but they’re a kick in the pants. And you won’t have any problem finding a 6-speed manual.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Nguyen Van Falk

      Damn, I have to drive a mini I guess. I see Cooper S-es with automatics piloted by Lincoln park trixies and yuppies in Chicago. I’ll have to get behind the wheel and ENORMOUS tachometer and row my way through those 6 gears.

      I forgot Hyundai already builds a car I’d buy: Elantra Touring. Hopefully they’ll put their new direct injection 4 banger in that. I’d buy that for a dollar!

    • 0 avatar

      “Damn, I have to drive a mini I guess.”

      Yes, you do. I know two people who bought new Mini’s while shopping for much more pedestrian cars (Saab 9-5 and Accord) They both took a wild-card test drive and came away thinking that they’ve been missing out on all their past purchases. The 6-speed manual is very good (the Civic Si’s might be better, but that’s it), the steering is the best I’ve seen in a FWD car, the suspension is sophisticated and sporty (the Fit’s stiffness with some of the GTI’s composure) and the new engines are great.

      Re: reliability. I’d avoid the automatic transmission (utter garbage, a Mini auto is a sure sign of a unresearched purchase) and the older engine. Both of the newer Mini’s I have experience with have been very reliable, unlike older models that friends have owned (very unreliable), with only software updates required to fix whatever faults occured (windows and rear hatch latch respectively). The wear items are more expensive than those in a Fit, Versa etc…but not dissimilar to a GTI’s.

  • avatar

    Cut and paste “Mercedes Benz” for “Toyota” and the same holds true. Their quality has turned around a bit over the past few years, but it was abysmal during the past decade. Instead of a poorly made Toyota, you could buy a poorly made MB at twice (or three) times the price.


  • avatar

    I had a 1993 Corolla that felt like a compact Mercedes. Solid, quiet and reasonably quick and fuel efficient (34mpg+ highway). And it still felt that way in 2001 w/ 130K miles on it. I was sad to see it go, but I needed a wagon and ended up with a 1996 Subaru Legacy wagon. Another fine machine that I should not have sold.

    Then later in life, I worked with Toyota as they moved production of the Camry to the Subaru plant in Indiana. I could not believe the cost cutting and quality lapses they justified with the “Toyota Way”. That 2 year experience with Toyota eliminated all modern TMC vehicles from consideration as personal vehicles.

  • avatar

    Toyota’s engine sludge issues were quickly tracked to Toyota’s introduction of the ULEV and SULEV engines. Basically the cheapest way to get this emissions sticker was to turn up the temperature in the engine to make it run hotter. Honda did the same but their cylinder heads were originally designed with larger oil passages as hotter oil ironically needed larger passageways to flow through the engine. Toyota’s had narrower passageways causing sludge buildup and eventually blockage.

    Ditto to the fact that Toyota loaded many Camry’s and Corolla’s into fleet sales in order to pad sales numbers (we’ve seen what happens to Ford, GM and Chrysler vehicles – even Hyundai and Mitsubishi did this too). We know that GM, Ford, Chrysler (~35%), Toyota (~25%), Mitsubishi (~50% for a time!) but Honda had an almost industry low (~3%). Retail sales and resale value (cold hard cash spent out of pocket) were always the strongest measure of quality (not polls and opinions).

    When Toyota decided to be the biggest and do whatever it took – that’s when it changed.

  • avatar

    I think it was the 3rd gen Camry (92-96) the one that killed the Taurus and put the seeds for the Accord. Size, shape, power was right on the spot, the interiors looked great at the time. I really like that car (not a Toyota fan).

    The 4th gen just buried them. What I find most irritating about that particular generation is how similar it was in shape to the previous Taurus. It seems to me americans really liked that shape. Gain for Toyota, loss for Ford.

    The last Camry I liked was the 3rd gen. After that, Taurus copy (4th), fugly and meh (5th), poor bangle copy and fugly (6th).

    Also, the so called Baby Camry (AE101 Corolla) was a high mark for the car. The interior feeled somehow upscale. The 98 feels and look CHEAP. After that generation, they decontented even more, replacing the independent (and more expensive) rear suspension with a torsion beam system. Also, that’s the last Corolla I liked.

    psarhjinian: every post I read from you tells me quality=reliability. That alone shouldn’t be used to measure the quality of a car. Reality is what it is however.

    • 0 avatar

      Take a look to my post below … you posted as I was writing on a similar topic … in order to explore and better understand the topic, the B&B need to use the more “clinical” language prevalent in the industry … Quality = “was it made and did it function as intended?”, Durability = “did it do what it should have done for as long as intended?”, with Content or Materials is not Quality in the strictest sense.

      By way of example, and only roughly speaking, a button without soft-touch paint is a matter of content, a soft-touch paint button that loses the paint, is a matter of quality (if it (say) happens in the warranty period), and matter of durability (if it happens later), and a matter of fact if the car is just really old and well loved…

    • 0 avatar

      every post I read from you tells me quality=reliability. That alone shouldn’t be used to measure the quality of a car. Reality is what it is however.

      It depends how you define both reliability and quality, as they mean very different things to different people, and to some they mean the same thing.

      I’ll give my definitions, for clarity:
      Quality: we have to split this into materials and build.
      * Materials quality is pretty easy to define for aethetics, but harder for mechanicals. The latter has an impact on long-term reliability; the first is largely irrelevant to reliability
      * Build quality is how well screwed-together the car is, as well as how well-screwed together it can be. This generally affects short-term reliability.

      Reliability is short- and long-term. How you define it depends on what’s important: is the car dependable, and/or is it cheap to operate.
      * Short-term reliability is, basically, the warranty period. This should be a given, and is more a test of warranty performance than mechanical soundness. It’s also the time when you see cheap replacement parts rear their ugly heads.
      * Long-term reliability. For me, this is the big one: will the car be cheap to own and repair once the warranty expires.

      Then we get into durability, which is how well a car survives if mistreated (where “mistreatment” might mean “being in the hands of a normal human”). Again, a car can be reliable but not durable (the RX-7 and RXX-8 come to mind), or durable without being reliable (a pickup truck that needs repair but handles well)

      A car can have the cheapest material quality and iffy build quality and still be reliable and cheap to own, especially over the long haul. By and large, that’s what consumers of mainstream cars care about, and what reviewers tend to ignore. It’s very hard to write a long-term road test about a car that’s six years old and was kind of dull to begin with. No one wants to wax poetic about the low TCO of a 2002 Corolla in 2010.

      ** except TTAC, which is one reason why I like this site.

  • avatar

    Wow- now it makes sense. When my car was in for service, I had a newer Camry loaner. I was excited to try it, as my wife’s 98 Accord is getting old and the Camry might be a good replacement. I was SO disappointed. It just seemed soft, floaty, noisy, and cheap. The old 98 Accord with 7x as many miles was a pleasure to drive and spend time in in comparisson. I thought it was just a particularly beat up rental, but now I see the likely cause was cost cutting.

  • avatar

    My family once used a service called “Rent-a-Wreck” to rent a ’90 Camry sedan (our ’95 Caprice wagon was in the shop). I have never heard a door slam so solid before or since. The thing was small (even smaller thanks to the headroom-intruding power sunroof) but GOOD LORD was it well-built; felt like a tank.

    Toyota has been screwing the pooch for far too long now; putting the bottom line before quality. One wonders exactly how much longer the mercilessly hypocritical marketing will ring true in the ears of (the admittedly obtuse) American public before they look at the cold hard plastic fact – the quality of the ’90 Camry is nowhere to be seen in any Toyota branded product on sale today.

    I don’t think it’s too late for Toyota though…cars like the FT-86, the iQ, and the new “Sienna with a pulse” give me hope. The poorly-fitting trim of the Venza and those infamous floor mats, notsomuch.

  • avatar

    I have a 2002 Highlander which is generally rated as one of the vehicles to buy if you want it to last a long time. It has slightly over 240Km on it now and generally it has been nothing short of fantastic. During this time I have replaced the transmission @ 200Km and nothing else so overall I have no complaints. Two years ago I went looking for a new vehicle, I checked out all the leading imports and came away the following conclusions:

    North American Manufacturer (GM,Ford,Chrysler) = Crap on wheels
    Honda = OK quality but my local dealer is a thief
    Mazda = Not bad but nothing I really liked
    Volkswagen = Hahaha don’t make laugh . this is called engineering?
    BMW = Overpriced for what you get which is average quality
    Audi = Hahahaha Part II
    Hyundai = Not bad vehicles, good warranty, Santa Fe is similar to older Highlander that I have in size etc..
    Toyota = I can’t believe how bad the new generation Highlander is
    The Rav4 which I ended up buying is OK quality but I’ve noticed it had a number of squeaks and rattles even before I was hit by a deer which was about 1 year into ownership, now its much worse.

    I bought the RAV4 as my wife wanted Toyota quality and reliability based on the Highlander. So far its ok other than the rattles but I can honestly say after recently looking around I will not buy Toyota again. I think they are headed into the same toilet as GM/Chrysler/Ford and they will end up in the same position.

    My new vehicle when I buy one will likely be a Hyundai as they seem to be about 90% of Honda quality and a lot cheaper.

  • avatar

    Every automaker uses “decontenting” a cost-reduction measure.

    But Toyota has taken it to the extreme. While current Toyota don’t feel cheap, they don’t have that quality feel that they once did.

    You think the geniuses at Toyota would figure out that when you keep taking 3-5% of cost out on an annual basis by using cheaper parts or lowering the quality, after a few years the car is no better than the crap that GM/Ford/Chrysler was pumping out.

  • avatar

    “You think the geniuses at Toyota would figure out that when you keep taking 3-5% of cost out on an annual basis by using cheaper parts or lowering the quality, after a few years the car is no better than the crap that GM/Ford/Chrysler was pumping out.”

    Up until now, it was still better than the crap from GM/Ford/Chrysler. However, we may see that changing. At least with GM and Ford. I don’t have much hope for Chrysler.

    • 0 avatar

      For the record, Toyota has been able to take cost out without objectively-measurable losses in reliability. The big hit, as Steven notes in the article, was in the late-nineties exercises and quality has actually been on the increase since.

      No, really. Contrary to what you’d read on the blogosphere, the problem rates and severity for Toyotas are generally near or top of their respective classes.

  • avatar

    What I would appreciate is if the discussion could split into “Content” & “Quality”, and how Toyota “Decontented” and “lost Quality”.

    Content is “look or feel” of something Made Properly (Conforming to the Specification or Design), or a feature which brings surprise and delight.

    Quality is “the correctness” of something, and Whether it is made properly.

    OTOH, Durability is a third category more difficult to distinguish from Content or Quality because, for example, a failure at 70k miles is a quality issue if the spec called for 100k miles, but a success with a safety factor of 2 if the spec called for 35k miles lifetime (numbers are illustrative.) Since we don’t know Toyota’s bogey (target) for durability of certain items in the car, I leave this open to the B&B to interpret (try to apply the “should it have lasted much much longer?” test in doing so.)

    I’m being a stickler here because it I think it would be more interesting and informative of what’s happening at Toyota if we don’t mix, or confuse the differences, in these topics in our discussions.

    Thus, a post might read my old Toyota had soft-touch paint on all the buttons and switches, but my new Toyota does not (this would be the content issue), and the old Toyota never needed a light bulb replaced in 100k miles, but the new Toyota needed 2 during the warranty period (this would be the quality/durability issue.)

    Before the chance to edit my post expires, I think I should add … there is overlap between Quality/Durability/Robustness/Craftsmanship/Content/Value and the boundaries are somewhat open to interpretation … I’m not looking to start an argument about where the boundaries lie, but rather how those with direct experience with Toyota products perceive the evoloution (devolution) of Toyota’s products over the last 20 years…

  • avatar

    Oops sorry I somehow deleted part of my previous post.

    The 2009 Highlander was junk inside – cheap plastic that felt and looked like cheap plastic similar to GM quality is how I would describe it. The gas mileage was awful, the fit and finish was poor, the seats lacking support. I could go on and on … I didn’t buy a new Highlander and with the problems I’m seeing in the Auto user forums I’m glad I didn’t.

    The RAV4 also has a lot of cheap plastic and poor seats but it seems to have fairly good reliability – so far.

    I expect to dump the RAV while it still has some value and buy a Santa Fe.

    • 0 avatar
      Christy Garwood

      dew, please do yourself a favor and test drive a Chevy Equinox or GMC Terrain before you buy the Santa Fe. You will not find the interiors cheap. The quality of the vehicles is high in all areas.

      And don’t just rely on the urgings of a GM employee like me. Do an internet search and see what drivers are saying about these vehicles. There is a reason that dealers can’t keep them on the lots and the assembly plant is working overtime.

  • avatar

    Interesting reading the posts on this subject. Reliability, durability, dependability.

    Sure don’t see much about excitement and passion and performance, but then we are talking mostly about Toyota.

    I’ll take the higher maintainance on my Audi any day as a small price to pay for not thinking my life has become a commodity.

  • avatar

    Very nice article. But plurals don’t take apostrophes!!!
    But damn were ***Toyota’s*** expensive before the ‘decontenting’ period.

  • avatar
    night driver

    Wall Street Journal reporter Mary Walton’s book, [url=]CAR[/url] is a fantastic read, and goes into great detail about how the ’96 Taurus was benchmarked against the “upscale, luxurious” ’93 Camry… and how the Ford was completely unprepared for the announcement and release of Toyota’s cheaper, decontented ’97 Camry.

    I owned a ’97 Taurus G (the last-minute reaction to get a low-end model out the door) — cost under $15K new, and had features that Ford couldn’t decontent if they tried (like those triple door seals, power windows, AC, and folding rear seat) combined with a few things they could decontent (like power locks and body-color trim). In black, it actually looked good, and served me well for 150K.

  • avatar
    night driver

    Wall Street Journal reporter Mary Walton’s book, “Car”, is a fantastic read, and goes into great detail about how the ’96 Taurus was benchmarked against the “upscale, luxurious” ’93 Camry… and how the Ford was completely unprepared for the announcement and release of Toyota’s cheaper, decontented ’97 Camry.

    I owned a ’97 Taurus G (the last-minute reaction to get a low-end model out the door) — cost under $15K new, and had features that Ford couldn’t decontent if they tried (like those triple door seals, power windows, AC, and folding rear seat) combined with a few things they could decontent (like power locks and body-color trim). In black, it actually looked good, and served me well for 150K.

    • 0 avatar

      Great book, the bit about Toyota making Camry a moving target is pretty ironic.

    • 0 avatar

      Not sure if it was you night driver that recommended this book along time ago but I took someone’s advice on this site and read Car. VERY interesting book. Great compendium of Ford culture past and present and everything else involved in making that generation Taurus.

    • 0 avatar

      I read the book as well, but despite the benchmarking I think we can all agree it was the ovoids-gone-wild styling is what doomed the Taurus.

      (As an aside, my co-worker at the time was looking to replace her ’92 Taurus with the ’96, but despite specs that “said” the new car was bigger she thought it looked smaller and instead went the minivan route.)

      Maybe the 96 Taurus’ failure drove Jacques Nasser into the warm embrace –and big profits– of the Explorer and Expedition…

  • avatar

    I dunno – while I certainly appreciate the expertise to be found on this site, sometimes I feel that people expect their cars to run at least 100K miles with nothing but “routine” maintenance. My wife’s car is a 2002 Camry, 4cyl. XLE that, at 60000 miles, just had its 1st repair. Right front strut failed and while the dealer wanted $800 to replace and install (including $85 for an unnecessary alignment),I had done for $500 at a trusted local shop.

    While the mileage is low, there is no getting around the fact that it is 8 years old, and to my mind a certain amount of things will need to be replaced/repaired as it ages. Mechanical things wear down, electrical components face corrosion, etc. At least, that is my life experience.

    My 2008 4Runner runs as good as the day I bought it – absolutely no rattles, squeaks, or other weird noises.

    Maybe we have just been fortunate, but if Toyota’s quality has been crap since 2002, we haven’t seen it. Best vehicles I’ve ever owned in a span of 45 years driving.

    • 0 avatar

      In this day and age, that probably is the expectation. And why not? Even my 2000 blazer made it to 118,000 with just regular maintenance (then the fuel pump went, now moving on up the odometer like before). I would have higher expectations than that for, say, a 4Runner.

      Come to think of it, my ’68 Fury made it to 108,000 with regular maintenance, too. Then an ignoramus t-boned it running a stop sign.

    • 0 avatar

      WOW – $800 to replace one strut ?!?

      For those who pay this, I guess there really is a sucker born every minute. Even $500 sounds way too high to me.

    • 0 avatar

      My 1995 Explorer went 160,000 miles before needing anything approaching a major repair, it needed a water pump. I went ahead and put a new timing chain in it while I had the front of the engine taken apart.

      At 230,000 miles the transmission finally succumbed to metal fatigue and snapped a band while climbing a pass in Colorado. Now at 260,000 miles it’s had a top-end gasket refresh. Still knocks down 18mpg in town and 22 on the highway.


  • avatar

    Unintended accelleration, engine sludge, severe rust, etc. Sounds like Toyota is in big trouble. Quality down the tubes and people are beginning to recognize this.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s one thing for a company to screw up, even if repeatedly over a long time. It’s another for a company to deny there are problems. It’s still another to blame the problems on something & not accept responsibility — recall recent comments by Toyota exec saying their current quality woes are due to increase in non-Japan manufacturing (“swelling global ranks of employees”), blaming the customer (“customers’ heightened quality expectations”), and red herrings (“more electronic controls”). And, it’s yet another thing for a company to arrogantly treat loyal customers like crap when they bring lemons to the attention of the company and the company tells them “it’s normal” and refuses to repair replace the product. Taken together, this is a recipe for losing business and reputation.

  • avatar

    Not for nothing – and lord knows that they’ve had problems lately – but my father (BMW 528i), father-in-law (RX300) and grandmother-in-law (Camry) all bought cars in 1999. The 528 finally crapped out three years ago at about 150k, with two to three thousand dollars of repairs every six months for the last couple of years; the Camry’s a/c is a little wonky but otherwise runs like a dream; and the RX is my daily driver, with 258k on the odo. Other than scheduled and other routine maintenance (oil, fluids, tires, etc.), the only thing I’ve ever had to do to the RX is replace the oxygen sensors. That thing is a beast.

    • 0 avatar

      Funny too ’cause there’s a good chance your RX has the 1mzfe engine prone to engine sludge mentioned in this article (and possibly the ’99 camry too!).

      Just goes to show most of the Toyota unreliability issues have been totally overblown. These cars still far outperform other brands past the 100k mark.

  • avatar

    Good discussion on reliability vs. quality (at least in the realm of interior content). There are two Toyotas sitting in our garage…one is a 2003 Corolla LE with 70k (fully loaded, leather, sunroof, etc…)…the other is my 1997 Tercel CE, manual everything and 190k. From a reliability standpoint, the Tercel has been beyond reproach. We’ve done regular maintenance and it soldiers on. Sure, routine wear and tear items are in need of replacement now, but the bones are there for a continued reliable ride well into the future. As a matter of fact, I’m seriously considering investing in a moderate overhaul of the car (new suspension, replace all belts/hoses/fluids, bushings, etc…), repainting it and letting my son have it back for his last two years of college. Meanwhile, my mother’s 2003 Corolla has been pretty solid, as well. The only “issues” have been a mass flow sensor going bad and a power lock motor needing attention. Both can be considered reliable, but the content quality of both cars is glaring in how they differ. My 1997 Tercel has a much richer feel to it than the Corolla does. Heck, the Tercel still has actual cloth on the doors…and the IP has more presence, quality and feel than does the IP in the Corolla. Sure, while other manufacturers have chosen to decontent to save money, it’s sad to see Toyota follow the same path to such negative results. And don’t gete me started on the 2010 Corolla…we rented one a few months ago while we awaited the arrival of my mother’s 2003 from Germany…yikes…talk about plastic-fantastic. I’ll keep the Tercel. But as I get ready to freshen up the Tercel, the challenge will be to find a comparable 3 to 5 year old replacement for $10k or so that has the same solid build as the Tercel does…

  • avatar

    “Mini’s are flat-out the best fwd small car available”

    And they are horribly unreliable. But I digress….

    Life is a series of trade offs. On one hand, Toyota cars are not as attractive as they were say, 15 years ago. They have indeed been subject to cost cutting. The cars are not as nice inside as they used to be.

    But they are a lot cheaper. The TCO is lower than it has ever been and the reliability of the cars is still top of the heap. Customers love the cars and they sell in mass quantities at reasonable prices. The cars make a profit.

    What is missing from this article is the mention of Lexus. A loaded 1992 Camry V-6 will costs practically the same in inflation adjusted dollars as a 2010 ES350. Those cars are still made in Japan and they are fine vehicles. But Toyota wants buyers to move up the the more profitable Lexus. Thus Toyota is the budget brand, Lexus the luxury brand.

    As for the SC400, it was a halo car. Toyota needed to put Lexus on the map and the SC did that.

    But like I said, life is a series of trades. Want a car as nice as a ’92 Camry? Well, then you have to go to an ES 350 at $35,175. Adjusted for inflation, that is a practically the same as a loaded 1992 Camry.

    As for one poster’s reference to the first generation Fit, hehe, I have one and I am not giving it up! Never!

    • 0 avatar

      Lexus quality has dropped over the years, too, at least based on my unscientific experience with their ES models. Ignoring the quality problems with the craptastic 2004 ES330s and 2007 ES350 I’ve wasted money on, the ’07 ES is definitely de-conted compared to the ’04:

      * Way less wood on dashboard
      * Much noisier (engine noise, wind noise)
      * Way more engine vibration
      * Donut spare tire vice full-size spare (but most distributors in US get the full-size “option”)
      * Single-stitching instead of double-stitching on leather seats
      * No pop-out purse hanger on passenger side of center stack
      * Cheaper leather (stiffer)

      The new HS250h is a stunning example of de-contenting. The fully-loaded one, costing about $48K, has the following deficiencies:

      * No extending sun visors (has flimsy plastic pull-out tabs that are don’t block light above them and cause visors to dangle down at angle)
      * No wood steering wheel (only JDM gets it)
      * No smog-sensing climate control auto recirc (JDM gets it)
      * No driver seat cushion extender
      * No memory for for front passenger seat
      * Miniscule padding in lower back of front seats
      (hard protrusion in center lower lumbar region)
      * No lumbar control for front passenger seat
      * No light inside center console box
      * No puddle lamps on rear doors
      * No keyless entry sensors on rear doors
      * Can’t get auto-swivel HID lamps (must special order auto-swivel LEDs)
      * Upgraded “Mark Levinson” stereo not offered (but can special order it)
      * No map pockets on back of front seats (JDM gets it)
      * Cheesy cup holders in front lack spring-loaded tabs to stabilize beverages
      * Insufficient sound proofing
      * SIngle color instead of typical Lexus dual color status LED on seat heater/cooler controls
      * Cheesy coat hooks (plastic loop slipped over rear “jesus handles”) instead of typical Lexus pop-out hooks
      * Cheesy “jesus handles” – fixed loops instead of typical Lexus damped pop-down type
      * No lights in rear area of car

  • avatar


    I just ran the numbers. The MSRP for a 1993 Camry ran from 15,308 to 22,118. Adjusted for inflation that’s 22,533 to 32,558. 2010 Camrys range from 18,371 to 26,770.

    So, a 2010 Camry may be decontented vs. a 1993 but it’s also much much cheaper.

  • avatar

    So, the big question: If Toyota designed the next Camry to have the same inflation adjusted price point of 22,500 to 32,500 vs. the current 18,500 to 26,500 – how many sales and how much market share would they lose? I’m sure adding an extra 4k to the budget would allow them to build a much better car – but would people really pay an extra 4k?

  • avatar

    ” how many sales and how much market share would they lose? I’m sure adding an extra 4k to the budget would allow them to build a much better car – but would people really pay an extra 4k?”

    Conversely, how many extra sales would they get at the lower price? Since the Camry is the #1 selling car in the USA, it would seem that they have made a good business decision.

    I also note that adjusted for inflation, the ES350 is almost exactly the same price as a loaded 1993 Camry, with a higher level of content.

    Toyota sold 400,000 + Camrys in 2009 and another 150,000 + Lexus models. Seems they have made a good business model in my opinion.

    • 0 avatar

      A $32K ES350 is a stripper model – base stereo, no navigation system, etc. Considering that the upgraded (JBL) stereo in the loaded camry is *far* superior to the Mattel standard stereo in the ES, and that loaded camry also comes with Nav, etc., it’s got more content.

  • avatar

    I’m sure that’s what people thought about GM right up until they didn’t.

  • avatar

    New Tototas are unmitigated crap.

    I rented a Corolla (2009)and was absolutely shocked at how piss poor the car was built and how badly it drove.

    I had a 2009 Camry 5 months ago as my car was in for recall work, and it, too, was a pile of a turd.

    I actually considered buying a Highlander last year, but after a close inspection, scratched it off the list due to horrid trim and material fit and finish, not to mention its woeful (even for its class) fuel economy, numb tiller and marshmallow suspension that loved to pitch and bob.

    Toyota either better get back to its core values of delivering superior products for a very slight premium, or they’re going to get cut down at the knees very quickly.

  • avatar

    The other issue I can’t help but think is how the gap between any two cars just isn’t as big as it was in 1993. In 1993 you could buy a Camry or an Olds Cutlas. Now, I drove both of those back in 1993 and the Carmry was a Rolls Phantom compared to the Cutlas.

    You just don’t see that kind of quality, NVH, etc. between two cars for sale in the US today.

    • 0 avatar

      I think you’re right but ironically I think it’s a combination of the domestics and the Koreans playing catchup while Toyota snoozed and decided that “good enough” was part of their vocabulary.

  • avatar

    Toyota topped the charts in several categories of the 2010 Consumer Reports Car Brand Perception survey, including overall brand perception (1.Toyota; 2. Ford; 3. Honda). It will be interesting to see how they fare next year, after the recalls. The rest of the rankings in all surveyed categories are available at this free article:

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, quite remarkable considering the historical bias that CR has for Toyota…

  • avatar

    What the Hammer said exactly

    I’m probably repeating a comment on an Toyota post from last week, but as someone who owned an early 90s (93, I think…) Camry and then experienced (as rentals, friends’ cars, etc.) the later models, the difference in perceived quality and content was almost astonishing to me.

    Robert.Walter makes some good points about how we slice and dice this, but I’d add that from an owner’s/buyer’s experience (at least in the initial few years as an owner, where hopefully nothing has really gone awry), the “surprise and delight”, “soft touch” perceived quality features probably = quality.

    I’m in a mixed marriage: I keep my cars — one’s 10 and the other’s 20, while the wife gets a new one every 3 years, so I certainly understand about long term durability thing(and the 10 year old is a BMW, so I feel the pain to the tune of many many thousands, trust me). But I believe that for typical folks who don’t go double digits in years and six figures in miles, most of the durability issues probably don’t pop up. Maybe Toyota’s still bulletproof there, but from the cars I’ve been in and seen, they don’t “feel” it like they did back in the 90s.

    Perhaps, as has been posited here, this was inevitable in the chase for market share and profits, but it surely does suck.

  • avatar

    My dad got himself a Lexus IS220d Luxury Line in 2006…he payed cash and spent exactly 35.000€ while MSRP incl. 19% sales tax was somewhere around 38 – 39k. (yes…for a 4-cylinder Lexus…in the states…well, just think for yourself what you could get for roughly $50.000 – I guess this is why we don’t have the IS 350 over here in Germany)

    This was his first Lexus / Toyota ever (except for the Toyota Modell F, a mini van being offered in Europe and Asia by the end of the 80s. He needed it since he just had bought a house that he was about to restore and only drove that car for some 2 years). After several French and Italian cars, to sum up, a huge disappointment.

    Quality and “thoughtfulness” of the car is in many points by far worse than that in my 07 Peugeot 207.

    The dashboard cracks, the speakers of the superb stereo rattle, power seat would recline just a little more everytime he opened the driver’s door (so you had to readjust every time in order to keep you from laying down), power steering wheel rattles, 4th gear of the M/T pops out every now and then (a user at the European Lexus Owner’s Club notified me that the Lexus IS is the only rear-wheel-drive car using the 2,2l Diesel engine. In all other Euro-Toyotas such as the Avensis, Auris and Verso this engine is paired with a front-wheel-drive system. Apparently, Toyota figured that they wouldn’t sell a lot of IS in Europe anyways and never ever a diesel outside the European continent so here’s what they supposedly did: They took the manuel transmission that could handle the torque out of one of their light-duty-trucks with diesel engine and RWD they sell in Japan…well, nice premium luxury car…you betcha this is keeping up with the BMW 320d -.-)

    Car was recalled 3 times (seat belt, steering wheel, injector nozzle).

    This is not even the main point, though. My dad is very patient, he loves the design of the car and the uniqueness compared to all of the Bimmers and Merc you see over here.

    He shares my dislike mostly about the following: The car is just simply not made and fitted for the European market. Plus it’s just so 80s in certain things. The Trip-computer is only in English, the gear trans ratio is horrible and useless (6th gear makes sense when doing at least 100 mph (I’m not kidding!) – so I’m asking myself…this saves diesel on the German Autobahn where we can do 100mph legally (well, there’s a slight incline…gotta shift back to 5th gear!)…how about all of the other European countries? Just have a sixth gear that’ll kill itself around at roughly 1.100 rpm when doing 55mph?), the wiper won’t go back into its “null-position” when you turn of the engine, the radio- and clock dials look like a nasty 1985-NERD-GEEK-CASIO-wristband-watch, the steering is so easy to use, it won’t matter whether you park the car or do 120mph in terms of directness in steering,…

    I could go on and on…

    WHY WE BOUGHT THE CAR IN THE FIRST PLACE? Well, dad needed one in 2006 quickly…he test drove the IS 250 A/T, liked it a lot (you’ll start noticing all these annoying things after 5.000 miles at the earliest) and test drove the engine in the Toyota Avensis and loved it (different M/T and gt ratio). Then he pre-ordered cuz’ he would have never believed that they could mess up so badly.

    WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH TOYOTA IN GENERAL? We Germans are said to be the most demanding clients in the entire world. If you make it here, you can make it everywhere…well, better luck next time. Even though Toyota is producing some of their Yaris, Avensis, Aygos and Versos here, I – being a student of Automotive Business – predict that they’ll have problems if they don’t watch out and take a close, very close look.

    Hybrid is not much appreciated over here, neither are Japanese cars in general – their styling is way to boring compared with the French/Italians and their engines are way too bad compared to those small enginges by VW, BMW or FIAT (of course, some exceptions always apply). We’re not dumb; killing the MR2 mid-engine-roadster + the Celica but staying into Formula 1 racing stating that this will improve your sporty image is never a great idea. Their cars don’t get connected with the people that drive it…no USB-Plugs, no nice gadgets, no cool colors, no expression of unique style.

    The costumer service we received was awful. The TOYOTA quality was a pain in the butt. The result: Not ever getting a Toyota product again…and hey, at least we did try (to the dislike of many neighbors that work for Mercedes who drive…well, certainly not a Toy!)

    We could’ve bought a Merc, Bimmer, VW, AUDI or any other car…you just got lucky that the IS got to be such a perfect exterior shape…fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice…is not going to happen.

  • avatar

    Perhaps, as has been posited here, this was inevitable in the chase for market share and profits, but it surely does suck.

    But, the base 1993 Camry would be 22k in 2008 dollars. If Toyota was still trying to sell the current base Camry for 22k then we would have a problem and that would indeed suck. But, a base 2010 Camry isn’t 22k it’s 18k.

    • 0 avatar

      Yep, and there’s something to be said for that… absolutely. I just wouldn’t want to buy one, assuming I had the choice… and it’s not like when you hit the $22k mark with options that some of those decontenting issues go away.

      (BTW, definitely not a Japanese car or Toyota or Camry hater… just disappointed that the “specialness” of the old ones has seemingly disappeared)

  • avatar

    This “specialness” – did it disappear when they started building cars in the US?

  • avatar

    I truly feel Toyota interiors are shit today for two good reasons; you can sell more cars at a lower price point and; more people will opt for the Lexus.

    You have to remember that in the mid 90’s lexus was really coming into stride. The second and third gen es were sooooooo similar to a camry v6 xle that a savvy buyer would just go for the Toyota.

    The distinction between the luxury Lexus and every-mans Toyota is far more pronounced today. Today there isn’t a single Toyota car with an interior that doesn’t feel chintzy . You’ll notice in the comments, no one complains about the interior build quality on Lexus.

    Toyota “cheapening” their cars was actually a good idea. For all the complaining about interior quality, go step in a modern Chrysler or Chevrolet and tell me it isn’t worst. It doesn’t make sense to make something significantly better if the consumer isn’t demanding it, especially if it raises your bottom line on costs and cannibilizes sales of your luxury division.

    As for mechanical quality, I think Toyotas are still great cars. Vehicles in general have become much more complicated, as have associated repairs. That’s why an old tercel or corolla needs minimal maintenance. I think its more an issue with other companies closing the gap on mechanical quality. If everyone makes a reliable car, Toyota really loses its brand appeal.

  • avatar

    Anyone see that Toyota has suspended sales of 8 vehicles? Just a matter of time now…

  • avatar


    Another option: Cover part of the increase of engineering/manufacturing cost by reducing profit margins.

    I wasn’t aware that Toyota current earned a profit…

  • avatar

    Well, this explains a lot. I’m considered by my friends to be somewhat of a “car guy” and i’m pretty handy with the wrenches, so my friends always ask me to help them out with maintaining and repairing their older vehicles when they run into problems. I have one friend who has a 1997 Camry she bought used for her paper route. Mechanically, it’s about as robust as they come only needing replacement of wear items and minor components over the last few years (steering rack due to leaks, radiator for same, wheel bearing with excessive play). It’s on the cosmetic and trim side where the decontenting has really showed up. This thing has the weakest, cheapest feeling door handles inside and out that i’ve ever seen. As she is in and out of the car repeatedly for work, the interior AND exterior door handles on ALL of the doors have fallen apart. There is a local pick-n-pull junkyard in town where I used to source replacements for her, due to the cost of new door handles. While there is usually a good selection of Camry parts cars of this vintage in the yard, the first thing to get pulled off of them is the interior and exterior door handles. The last time I worked on the car, i opened the passenger door and the door handle just snapped off in my hand. It seems that the plastic used for the pull portion of the handle just can’t handle the sun as it ages, and becomes brittle and weak. I guess bad door handles can one day lead to a recall of 6 million + vehicles and a production stoppage. Who knew?

  • avatar

    Coincidentally, today while I was out running an errand I saw two XLE (high-end) Camrys of the 1992-96 generation on the road, and I thought to myself (a) how few of them you see anymore, and (b) how perfect and classy that styling was, and except for the greenhouse being a bit more upright than current trends (not a bad thing IMO), it doesn’t look dated at all. Both ’92 and ’97 Camrys passed through our family and I remember noticing how Toyota cheapened the car. Dumb, but annoying, things like a prop rod instead of struts for the hood, and taking the mist function off the wiper switch. I’m lucky I didn’t break off the stalk trying to activate the mist switch that I had gotten used to but wasn’t there anymore. When you’re buying several million wiper switches, how much could the cost differential possibly have been? 79 cents?

  • avatar

    Decontenting….I had a Mercury Mystique, and the Mystique/Contour were systematically decontented through the model run-by the end they were replacing dashboards that warped in the sun. By the very end Ford had a “kit” to cover the warps and didn’t replace the dash any more.

    BMW has also de-contented the mighty 3 series. After getting it right with the past generation e46, the new e90 is clearly built with the command “save 5%”. Every piece of plastic has gone from thick quality to “just a notch better than Honda”. Agreed that running an older German can be expensive, but if you learn about the car and DIY, with a good indy mech as backup, it’s not so bad. BMW has a small army of reasonable replacement parts providers. Go to the dealer and cry, or DIY and it’s not much worse than any other car.

    Each successive generation of car costs less to build than the predecessor.

    Each car has a known lifespan that we are not privy to. This part annoys the crap out of me. Airplanes have a set time between overhauls for parts. Once out of warranty, it’s a mystery to all but the car makers.

  • avatar
    blue adidas

    Everyone I knew in the early 90s drove either an Integra or Camry. In 1995 I wanted an Integra, but they were in such huge demand that I cound’t find one with the right options. So I got a new GTI. Now I don’t know anyone who drives either a Camry or any Acura. Both brands seemed so brilliant at the time. But wow. Now Cadillac and Buick are quickly becoming more appealing. The only Japanese brands that seem to be on a good track is Infiniti with their G37 and Subaru with their quirky cars. The plates have really shifted in the last week.

  • avatar

    With the current problem with Toyota’s accelerater pedal/ accelerater throttle assembly and the fact they were manufactured in Indiana the problem must be the no-good union labor! Right!? I haven’t read any union bashing about this! This isn’t normal! Maybe this CTS company isn’t union! No that can’t be! If they aren’t it must be that the union has been trying to unionize CTS and that’s what caused the quality problem! Yes that has to be the reason!! It can’t be bad engineering design like many of our domestic auto quality problems, it just has to have SOMETHING to do with the union!

Read all comments

Recent Comments

  • SaulTigh: I too had a coworker that bought one of these when the first came out, specifically because it was at the...
  • Varezhka: In a shrinking segment, consumers who remains tend to flock to the safest bet; Camry and Accord in this...
  • FreedMike: Probably low residual value that the manufacturer isn’t pumping up.
  • RHD: An unfortunate part of Ricardo Montalban’s legacy is that he was so sucfessful in promoting Chrysler...
  • 1st_one: Sad that it’s coming to an end. I’ve tried twice in the last 5 years to get a reasonable lease...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Jo Borras
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber