Kiss Toyota Good Morning

March 14, 2010

The recent troubles that Toyota has been having seems to be a harbinger for the auto industry as a whole. Cars that careen out of control when you’re at a full stop at a four-way intersection tends to be a bit of a hard sell. But give the history of the auto industry, it may turn out to be in Toyota’s benefit.

It’s quite unfortunate about Toyota, because the Japanese model of creating automobiles was seen as the future of the industry, rather than the past. The past, of course, is exemplified by pretty much everything Detroit has done in the last four decades or so. The Big Three automakers spent years and years basically ignoring the fact that the future was, beyond all expectations, rapidly approaching. They failed to see changes in the market. They ignored changes in consumer taste.

Back in the 50’s and 60’s, having huge, yacht-sized vehicles barreling down the highways was seen as a God-given American right; large cars was necessary from a safety standpoint, not only to protect its passengers from an untimely death in the unlikely event of a crash, but also to give those Ruskies the what-for. Possibly, your average Ivan and Sventlana would see the absolute size of the roadboats we used to pick up the kids from K Mart and my goodness are they putting fins on those things? Do those cars go seaborne? Maybe those Yanks know a thing or two about economics. Little did those commies know that those fins and chrome and eight spare tires in the Anaheim-sized truck were there simply because we could. U.S.A! U.S.A!

They also pretended that tomorrow would never come in other ways, as well. When dealing with the auto worker’s union, negotiations tended to go like this:

Management: What are your terms?
Union: We don’t really want to work more than about six hours a week. Also, free health care and eight months off the year. And we want pensions paid at age 35 at 100%.
Management: Done.
Union: And please get us out of Detroit.
Management: If we have to stay here, so do you.
Union: Strike!

While it worked out great for the auto workers, it didn’t go over so well for auto workers who hadn’t been born yet, which, at last count, is what they are using now.

But then times changed. Carting around an extra 200 tons of steel and democracy looks awesome but it also made the cars get about four miles a gallon. Granted, back in the day when the top sheik of the moment could hardly go get a copy of the Mecca Times without getting overthrown by the CIA, KGB, Mossad, or Islamic fundamentalists, oil flowed like water from a faucet and people drank the stuff straight from the tap, and no one really cared how much we were using. But then the Arabs and assorted factions wised up and started checking the receipts Israel had with all those plans and missiles, and decided maybe it was time to start applying a bit of tough love.

All of a sudden, those little rice-burners that hippies and professors were zipping around in didn’t look like a farcical stop-motion newsreel anymore. Sure, they looked like something those crazy Asians would kick up in a board room. It was all function. It didn’t even have spoiler bars or a trunk that required its own zip code! What self-respecting American would ever buy such a ludicrous machine?

Well, it turns out, plenty of Americans who were sick of forking over a mortgage payment every time they went to pick up groceries would. This was an upset for Detroit, who reacted just the way that the free market system we have in America works: they kept doing the exact same thing they had been doing for three decades, then wailed to the government for a bailout. Which, of course, worked about as well as you could imagine.

At the very least, companies such as Toyota and Honda eventually forced the American car makers to adopt some changes, such as not building cars to the same specifications as an Abrams Tank. But they still held on to the solid money-making core of their business, such as offering auto loan rates only slightly less usurious than Nicky the Shinbreaker and charging for frivolous extras such as floor mats and carburetors. But foreign automakers made the industry as a whole better. So the fact that Toyota is having such problems doesn’t bode well for the auto industry as a whole.

Remember–all of these problems for the American car companies happened in the late 70’s and early 80’s. For those keeping score at home, this of course means that the exact same thing happened thirty years later. Which goes to show that in America, hard work, self-sacrifice, and innovation will make you successful, but nothing spells real success unless you sell yourself as an American Institution that is too big to fail, in which you can basically make whatever boneheaded decisions you want and let everyone else clean up afterwards. U.S.A.! U.S.A.!