It’s been a rough year for Toyota and March isn’t even over. While sales probably won’t suffer too much (year-on-year comparisons and hefty incentives are responsible here), the company’s reputation is on the line right now.
Toyota, which reached its goal of being number one in 2008 – and did it again last year – did so by cutting costs, stretching its engineering resources and riding heavily on its reputation for high quality.
Time to face facts: Toyota stopped deserving their reputation several years ago. Products like the Camry and Corolla, while never groundbreaking in a technological or design standpoint, were always well-engineered and refined and to a higher standard than the competition.
Honda had stellar products in the 2003 Accord and 2006 Civic. Nissan got its act together with the 2007 Altima. Hyundai did a good job knocking off the Corolla with the 2007 Elantra, and did it with their low prices and great warranty. Now their new Sonata looks 10 times better than a Camry ever did while being cheaper, better built and better to drive. GM got down to business with the 2008 Chevy Malibu that is better at being competent than the Camry. And Ford’s 2010 Fusion leaves the Camry, and just about every other midsize sedan, in its dust whether you want gas or gas-electric power.
Toyota will get over its unintended acceleration hysteria whether or not the problem is actually solved. It may even get past its other quality issues. But it won’t be able to ride on its reputation for quality cars when it isn’t in the business of producing those products anymore.
When Hyundai/Kia are making them for cheaper, Volkswagen is making them with more panache (see NCC coupe concept, soon to be the new Jetta) and Ford is going crazy with courage (see new Focus and Grand C-Max also), it’s only a matter of time before Toyota loses its prized ubiquity.