“Oh, What a Feeling: Watching Toyota Flunk for Once”
When I first read the headline a few days ago on NYTimes.com, I assumed the feature would be thinly veiled tongue-in-cheek commentary about the recent debacle with Toyota’s massive recalls. In my mind, the prospect of anyone taking satisfaction in this highly terrifying safety breach is hard to believe.
Interestingly, author David Segal’s article is a balance. He spends the next 2,000 words showering Toyota with back-handed praise, and analyzing how domestic automakers could capitalize off of this misstep without looking like insensitive predators. He equates the big ticket, glittering tech projects of Toyota’s concept cars to something of a technological arrogance and reminds readers that “pride goeth before a fall.”
Just as is typical of nationalist rhetoric, the word pride creeps into places it shouldn’t—like innovation—and takes on a competitive sheen. This is the part where “we” all have a good chuckle over the tarnished gold medals around Toyota’s neck at the automotive Olympics, right?
How about the latest from Chrysler announcing a $550 million investment into a plant near Mexico City? Or yesterday's news from GM that it's closing its Columbia City, IN plant and moving the work to Mexico?
It's no news that “buying American” often shines bright with irony, so perhaps we shouldn't recline comfortably on our “us vs. them” laurels just yet. I probably don't have to point out that, between automotive giants Toyota, Chrysler, and GM, only two took U.S. federal bailout money… and I think we all know which two.
Much like a war, a recession has the same affect of pulling at our nationalistic heartstrings. That said, taking pleasure in Toyota’s recent faltering is not only benign and misdirected, but also slightly insane. The recall was over a safety issue which caused several injuries and deaths… not exactly a funny little “I told you so” to Japan.
Further, if America’s number one selling sedan year-over-year is the Camry, then my guess is we all know someone who sells or services foreign cars, owns a dealership, supplies parts or builds them… you get the picture. In fact, according to Toyota’s website, the company employs 35,000 Americans directly, with another 115,000 working for Toyota, Lexus or Scion dealerships on U.S. soil.
My point is that, regardless of the Toyota’s decades-long competition with the Big 3, this recall is not good for America. The New York Times mentions “schadenfreude,” the German concept of taking pleasure in the misery of others. In fact, the opening lines betray some needling resentment: “In the senior class of automakers, Toyota was the straight-A student who wrecked the curve for everyone.”
I wonder what the thousands of Toyota employees that live and work in the U.S. would think of this nasty little “curve.”
Feeling a bit of schadenfreude toward Toyota’s recall miseries, or are you wishing others wouldn’t be so hasty to condemn a 35,000-job enterprise? Should we reserve judgment altogether until the dust settles? Let me know at Anna.Wells@advantagemedia.com.