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Has Toyota Been Sabotaged?

By James Donahue

Long touted as among the most dependable and safest cars on the roadways of the world, the Japanese-based Toyota has suddenly and unexpectedly fallen into disgrace because of reports of cases of sticking gas peddles, defective air bags, defective front wheel drive shafts and power steering problems.

The publicity has been so severe, and bearing down upon the carmaker so suddenly, that Toyota has halted auto production so its workers can concentrate on fixing all of the problems and deal with one of the largest automobile and truck recalls in history.

As one news report stated: The company’s “once pristine reputation for quality has been hammered, and Toyota’s share of the critical North American market has nose-dived.” Indeed, this has happened when American car makers have been struggling to claw their way out of bankruptcy and try to sell competitive cars in a sluggish market caused by the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression.

With unemployment rates nationwide soaring to well over 10 percent, and many of those holding jobs earning at minimum wage or struggling with part-time employment, there is little incentive for folks to rush out and go into debt on a new car.

It therefore goes without saying that Toyota’s problems couldn’t have happened at a worse time. There was a time, not too many months ago, when it appeared that all of the American car makers were going out of business and that Toyota might emerge as the number one automobile seller in the United States.

That so much trouble should strike nearly all of the vehicles being sold by Toyota at the same time strikes us as somewhat suspicious. Can it be that the company has been cleverly sabotaged by its American competitors?

After all, the automobile business, like just about everything else these days, is a dog-eat-dog proposition.

Sabotage might have been easier to carry out against a company as large and as expanded as Toyota has become than one might think. While the Japanese plant still operates at extreme levels of efficiency, with its cars there still standing up to high standards, the company has chosen to build new plants to help meet growing demand for its products in the United States and other parts of the world.

Not only this, but a little research has revealed that Toyota, like so many other manufacturing plants in the United States, has chosen to outsource the manufacture of many of its parts to other smaller manufacturing facilities. The so-called defective gas pedals, for example, came from a little plant in Indiana, which in turn, outsourced parts work to yet a third company in Ontario, Canada. The margin for either error or intelligent troublemaking, was broader than anyone might have thought.

Another part of this equation has been the massive media coverage of what began as a relatively small issue. It seems the recall began after a California driver called for help on a cell phone, saying the gas peddle on his Toyota was stuck and his vehicle was running out of control. It apparently never occurred to him that all he had to do was put the vehicle in neutral and/or turn off the ignition. Instead, he rode the runaway car until it crashed at high speed, killing the driver and everyone else in the vehicle.

After that story broke, other drivers complained about floor pads that caused their gas peddles to stick. When a few other accidents were blamed in sticking gas peddles, the government forced a recall in the United States. All of the media publicity has obviously stimulated more and more problems for Toyota.

This writer has been driving both American and foreign-manufactured cars and trucks for many years and we can say that while all of the vehicles have been relatively well made and safe to operate, there have been problems.

We recall an experience with a Chevrolet once that had a problem with the automatic transmission. If we left it idling with the transmission set in neutral, it had a tendency to jump into reverse gear unexpectedly. That almost caused a serious mishap one morning after I had stopped to let our daughter off at school. The car jumped into reverse as she was getting out, and before it was stopped was bearing down on other children walking across the street behind it. I later heard that Chevrolet transmissions in that year’s model had a tendency to do this. I do not remember a recall, however.