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Toyota Is Not A Bum!

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On: Fri, Apr 30, 2010 at 11:15AM | By: Lou Ruggieri

Toyota Is Not A Bum!

Up until recently, Toyota has essentially been the Japanese version of Rocky Balboa.

The little company from Japan threw themselves into the ring with the big three of the automotive world (you can decide who was Apollo Creed, Clubber Lang, and Ivan Drago). On October 31, 1957 Toyota Motor Sales dressed up like one of the heavyweight American car companies for the very first time. They set up shop on US soil in what was essentially the automotive version of a dingy gymnasium: An abandoned Rambler dealership in Hollywood, California. The brazen car company started selling cars the very next year, and sold about as many cars as there are two syllable words in Rocky's vocabulary. An underwhelming 288 vehicles in all staggered off the floors, 287 Crown sedans and one whole Land Cruiser. The future looked bleak for the heavy underdog of the automotive world.

But Toyota was not to be denied. The Landcruiser continued as the flagship model until Toyota hit the market with a stunning flurry of blows to their opponents. The extremely popular Corona was introduced in 1965; that helped nearly triple sales almost overnight.

Then Toyota brought the haymaker, in 1968, in the form of the Corolla, the car that would end up being the most popular automobile ever produced. After a few decades of dedication (running up mountains, doing tons of sit-ups, and chopping down trees presumably), Toyota worked at building a solid, practical, safe car for the entire middle class. The little upstart company stood toe-to-toe with the big boys for 12 rounds of showroom floor battle and did not falter. They had arrived, and proved they should not be underestimated any longer.

From 1990-2007 Toyota more than doubled its share in the US market, going from 7.5% to 16.3%. With an eye on value and reliability, Toyota grew into a juggernaut with cars like the Camry that became the most popular car sold in the United States 11 out of 12 years from 1996-2008. Then the Prius became the first mass produced hybrid, and the first hybrid to sell a million vehicles in May of 2008. Even with the economic problems in that same year,

Toyota TKO'd GM as global sales champion, and became the first automaker to hold the title, other than The General, since 1931. It would be a glorious finish to a movie, but alas life does not always imitate art.

Since its victorious Rocky IV-like championship round in 2008, Toyota's story has since resembled Rocky V… a sad mess that was the result of poor decisions and greed. In an effort to keep the crown as the world champion of automotive sales, Toyota seemingly let their eye for detail and reliability sit out a round or two. It seems now that it's one recall after the next. After being hit with the largest automotive fine of all time of $16.4 million by the U.S. government, Toyota has almost as many millions of gas pedals to fix on 2007-2010 RAV4s, Corollas, Matrixes, Avalons, Camrys, Highlanders, and Tundras. Then another shot to the ribs—a recall on about 600,000 1998-2010 Siennas to fix a flaw that could result in the spare tire falling off the car and bouncing into traffic on any given road or highway.

Even Toyota's great green fleet may have the even most loyal fans seeing red and changing their allegiance as many 2010 and up Prius, Camry hybrids, and Lexus HS 250hs are experiencing anti-lock braking problems that has caused the automotive giant to issue 'Voluntary recalls'. That flurry of rights and lefts has left the company's reputation teetering and the potential knockout blow may be the most recent recall of about 50,000 Sequoias due to a stability control issue. It may not be the most severe shot Toyota has taken in recent months, but it may just be the one last jab that sends the company sprawling to the mat. Much like Rocky went from title fights to street fights, Toyota is losing big, and seems to now face more courtroom battles than boardroom battles.

But, all may not be lost for the scrappy champion of the middle class. Perhaps a champion is not a true champion until they can overcome their biggest adversary: Themselves. Everyone counted out the Rocky franchise after Tommy 'The Machine' Gunn's appearance in 1990. But Sly got back up for one more round in the better than expected Rocky Balboa in 2006. Much in the same way, Toyota may have one more chance to get back up and try to prove themselves in the eyes of their once adoring public. But, it's going take more work than ever before to even get close to its former status as the leader in safety and reliability.

Toyota may be down, but don't count them out just yet. Even a modicum of searching will provide ample evidence that there are still millions of Camrys, Corollas, and Tacomas out there that have hundreds of thousands of miles on them with nary a problem. Some have never had more than a flat tire. For most of its 53 years in America, Toyota has been a true American sucess story. It took on the big guys and, despite the odds being stacked against them, and probably having more than one wife yelling, "You can't win!" Toyota did win and beat the odds. It did lose its way for a little while and was blinded by greed. It wasdriven by a need to stay at the top no matter the cost, which, objectively speaking, is probably more American than we'd all like to admit.

It is still too soon to tell, but these last two years may be just a hiccup in the Toyota legacy and soon will feel like nothing more than a bad dream... or a poorly executed sequel. The ref is counting and time is almost up. But if Toyota can refocus and, once again, find the strength and values that made them a champion for so many years, Toyota may be a story that everyone can get cheer for… even Mother Russia.

Get up, Toyota, because America loves ya!

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