Toyota: So Over The Whole Car Thing

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer

At the end of an excellent comment on the recent 1989 Camaro RS Curbside Classic, commenter carnick noted:

I remember reading an article at the time which interviewed both Roger Smith, and Toyoda-san, the head of Toyota at the time. Each was asked, ‘is your company in business to make cars, or to make money’? Smith answered, ‘of course, we are in business to make money’. Toyoda answered, ‘we are in business to make cars, and by making the best cars in the world, we will make money’. While Toyota has had its problems lately (they caught some GM virus), I think the general path both of those companies have taken over the past 30 years shows which strategy works best.

This is fantastic encapsulation of the different directions GM and Toyota have been heading over the past several decades, but it’s also a warning sign for Toyota. The company that rose to the top of the global auto industry by virtue of a laser-like focus on cars themselves is facing a flood of recalls and perceptions of declining quality… and it’s just come out with a PR website called “ Toyota Beyond Cars.” Coincidence?

Obviously it’s impossible to draw a causal link between declining quality and vacuous public relations initiatives. After all, if Toyota thinks that inviting the public to share “ideas about how you see beyond today to a better tomorrow,” somehow improves the public’s perception of the brand, so be it. In practice “Beyond Cars” is a harmless PR site, featuring plenty of carefully-staged photography and such shared wisdom as this bon mot from “Melissa H”:

Edward Niedermeyer
Edward Niedermeyer

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  • ClutchCarGo ClutchCarGo on Jan 22, 2010

    As to the Smith/Toyoda-san quotes, anyone who believes that a corporation is in business to do anything but make money is a fool or worse. Corporations exist for the sole purpose of creating wealth. Any corporate leader who fails to understand that point is guilty of misfeasance. Now a corporation can fail to understand how it can best create wealth for shareholders, even believe themselves nearly incapable of failing to do so based on their market position, but no corporation exists to make cars, or anything else. What they make is purely a means to the end of creating wealth. There is no higher calling based on human aspiration or morality, simply a matter of providing products or services with the greatest possible spread between selling price and production cost. Corporations that fail to use any and all legal means to maximize shareholder wealth are cheating the shareholders. And thanks to the US Supreme Court, they can now buy the govt they need to facilitate that effort.

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    • ClutchCarGo ClutchCarGo on Jan 22, 2010

      Hair-splitting, perhaps, but those distinctions are very important. The classic example is that of companies at the beginning of the 20th century who thought they were in the railroad business instead of the transportaton business. As technology made railroads increasingly less important, the companies that failed to understand the difference found themselves failing to deliver to shareholders.

  • Carguy Carguy on Jan 22, 2010

    Since Toyota is the car company for people who don't like cars - maybe this is the perfect campaign? Or maybe the "greener than thou" mimics oil company advertising which seems to suggest that they are completely beyond the whole oil thing and that hip young people approve of their business?

  • YotaCarFan YotaCarFan on Jan 22, 2010

    The "we see beyond cars" line at the end gives me the impression that cars are somehow bad and while Toyota has no choice but to build them now, they hope that a day will come that they no longer make cars. That doesn't exactly make me want to run out and buy a car. Instead, I'll wait until they start building green bicycles or sneakers and buy one of those.

  • Esldude Esldude on Jan 22, 2010

    The headline is misleading here on TTAC. It doesn't suggest they are going to quit making cars or go on to something else. They mention zero waste plants, I assume the plants making the cars. They mention zero emmission cars. It in no way suggests they are beyond cars onto something else. Merely as a car company, they aren't myopic to merely the car itself, but are aware and sensitive to the fact cars don't exist in isolation. They exist in a changing world, which means being aware of those changes, Toyota will take that into account to build cars that fit with the times and the rest of the world within which they exist. Frankly, such an approach is something all the other makers better be taking. Otherwise the time will come when what they offer are truly like dinosaurs that don't fit with the world they exist in.