Thursday

Is This Toyota's Tora Tora Tora Recovery Plan?

Picture this. It's early Sunday morning. Somewhere in Japan, uniformed suits and ties gather quietly in a small room, plotting how to solve their industrial and economic problem, caused by foreigners, the US. They decide to strike the Americans hard when they least expect it. And with military precision they hatch the plot that will unfold in the days to come, a plot to bring glory and riches back to the land of the rising sun. "The Zero," someone calmly asks, "how many Zeros can we afford to lose in this battle and still survive?"

Oh, I'm sorry. This is supposed to be about cars, isn't it? It is.

In an effort to win back the loyalty of some of its fleeing customers, Toyota has decided to throw in zero rate financing and 2 years of free maintenance if old owners will buy a new Toyota, Lexus or Scion. So they want people to buy a new one? That's the plan?

How nice of Toyota to help Americans get deeper into debt in order to solve Toyota's recall headlines nightmare. Forget about the recession-depression. Forget about your job worries. Forget about the foreclosure rates. Oh, and forget about those shimmed up gas pedals and the Prius brakes that don't. "Let's all take out a loan and get a new Toyota" is the company's battle cry.

Toyota took a sales beating after January's public relations fiasco where millions more cars and trucks were recalled for serious safety issues like runaway racing cars and trucks that wouldn't be stopped and brake systems that have to think about it before they work. Is this any way to build a car?

To rebound, the Japanese maker has decided to launch a pre-emptive strike on American pocketbooks. The Zero percent financing and leasing will cover about 80 percent of its lineup. Zero rate has been tried before and US News reported in fall 2008 how they might not be such a good deal after all. That may be especially true right now, with reports surfacing that the Toyota gas pedal shim may not be the answer to its run-away cars after all.

While Toyota seems to be betting that money will matter more to American consumers than safety (is that a Japanese trait?), the reality is that the interest rate on your car loan won't matter a lot when you pass that 100 mph mark with both feet on the brake pedal.

The company is desperately trying to regain customer confidence in the face of 8.5 million vehicles recalled worldwide and suspended sales of eight of its top selling models in January and February over safety problems. Most of those recalled vehicles have gone back on the showroom floor for sale now, but the reputation of the company has soured across the globe.

So, if you want a new Toyota-built car, the Japanese are plotting on how to get you back into one. On the other hand, if you already own one of the millions that were recalled, what are they doing for you? Apparently that part of the plot hasn't been hatched yet.

Meanwhile, maybe it really is time to buy American again. We've been helping consumers get rid of defective cars and trucks since 1978 and we have never seen American quality this high. And we've never seen Japanese quality this low. Maybe American manufacturers have learned their lesson. Let's hope so.

Burdge Law Office
Because life's too short to drive a lemon.