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Toyota recall coverups

In the last two years the number of recalls on Toyota vehicles has risen dramatically. In the US the numbers were up ten fold over the previous year and in Japan the numbers were up 100 times, mostly because Toyota never had recalls. So what’s the problem? Is Toyota quality dropping in their quest to become the world’s dominant manufacturer, slashing supplier costs and raising retail prices, cashing in on their reputation to build up a huge pot of money to further their expansion plans? Yes that certainly has something to do with it but there is more to the story.

In 1990 Toyota declared a profit in Japan of about $500 Million on a huge sales volumn pushed along by the late 80s bubble economy. In 2000 they reported a profit of $1 Billion on less sales volumn. How do you do that? No big secret, make your cars for less and sell them for more. Lot of people in the car business in Japan still believe that the first Lexus LS400 or Celsior was the best ever made, the 20 series had cost cuts and the 30 series even more. A Toyota salesman told me that. A few extra gadgets but the build quality and construction were gone. If you can pick up a 1993 or 1994 first model then hang onto it and look after it.

Suppliers to Toyota are being squeezed with every new model release. Friend of mine owns an electrical engineering firm that does a lot of work for a top level Japanese electronics giant. He used to do a bit of work for Toyota until they just became impossible to deal with. Essentially they wanted him to supply them at below his cost, to lose money to do work for them. He told them this, that this was not an equitable deal. Their arrogant response was that he should be proud to have the chance to do work for Toyota, it was an honour and if he had to lose money then so be it. Arh.. hello..Earth to Toyota, come in Toyota, what planet or what century are you living in? He gave them a big foreign F#$% YOU! And they are doing this to suppliers all over Japan who have loyally supplied them for 50 years or more. Any doubts on why quality is going out the door? I’ll save my blurb about the new range of Lexus for another time.

However this is all becoming fairly common knowledge in the mainstream, what is not perhaps is the power of Toyota over the years to suppress recalls. When you are as big as Toyota you make some very good contacts in the Japanese Transport Ministry. The Old Boy network that pervades Japanese business and industry, retiring bureacrats often getting “consultant” jobs which relate to their former department. Transport Ministry – Toyota. Mitsubishi got taken to task a couple of years ago only because it became a criminal matter when they removed a page from a report about faults in a model of truck.

Sure Toyota have done recalls over the last 15 years on certain models from time to time. The JZX100 Chaser is a good example but these are minor parts which cost a few thousand yen at most. A good example of a recall that should have happened but never did was the ABS braking system that was installed on the later models of the 30 series Soarer or Lexus SC and the Crown Majesta of the same era. Talk to anyone who has knowledge of these and they will tell you they are a timebomb waiting to happen. Not a case of if but only when it will start leaking and stuff up. My Japanese parts supplier was very candid about it. “These things always break, the design was flawed.” So why wasn’t there a recall? “Toyota covered it up, that’s an expensive part to replace.” Yes it is. And they won’t supply you the offending shaft or part of the unit that is dud. You have to buy the whole brake ABS unit with master cylinder and pump, weighs 18kg and costs Y268,000.

The other disturbing thing about this is the safety aspect that is being ignored. If an ABS unit and pump lose pressure and stuff up while you are on the highway at 100km/h you are going to have to stand on those brakes really hard to stop the car. The cop out is that to do a recall then a certain number of cars have to have the same fault and if sales of these cars were not particularly high, as in the case of the later model Soarer, then that number isn’t reached.

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