ASSHOLE # 10…Lives or profits?

Hate to go back to the auto industry for an a-hole culture, but I have, potentially, skin in this one…and I just don’t get how they get away with it: I’ve owned a couple Toyota vans in the past and really liked and even promoted them to friends. I currently own a Toyota MRII Spider (a cool mid-engine sports car) that I love, and a Toyota Matrix that my wife, Mary, drives and is quite happy with. But, I, nor hopefully my family and friends (or you), will never own another Toyota. I was skeptical of how they handled the sticky gas pedal fiasco. Now there’s the flying-shrapnel air bags. I realize Toyota is not the only car company to use Takata for their air bags, and I’m not aware, to be honest, how those other companies are handling their recalls…but I am appalled at how Toyota is. Here’s the story:

Mary’s Matrix’s air bag light went on, so, aware of deaths and injuries, I immediately brought the Matrix in to a Toyota dealership to check it out although we had not been informed of a recall. We’re told it would be unwise and too expensive to diagnose why the warning light is on and that our model is not under recall, only Matrixes on the coasts. I’m going coasts, eh? Must be related to salt? Don’t we salt our roads up here in Minnesota? Then I get a check for $30 intended to release Toyota from liability in case Mary or I get maimed or killed by, ironically of course, random shrapnel from my protective air bag…if I cash it. Of course I don’t. But it prompts me to look further into it…and, alas, suddenly my Matrix is on recall. When I call the dealership I’m told they don’t have the parts to satisfy the recall and don’t know when they will. When I suggest we, although increasing risk, disable the passenger- side air bag, I’m told that would also disable the driver’s. Great design…damned if we do, damned if we don’t!

THEN, I get a letter (probably because I didn’t cash the malignant check) informing me they don’t have parts but may sometime in the future…AND to not have anyone ride in the passenger seat. Well, isn’t that just convenient for Matrix (as well as other model) owners?

I really don’t get how they get away with this in our age of consumer protection. It would appear Toyota is risking life and limb to satisfy their shareholders. People are still getting killed and injured because Toyota wants to save money!? I haven’t heard the argument that they can’t make the parts quick enough and wouldn’t buy it if they did. Trading off money for people’s lives! Really?

In 1991 a movie was made called “Class Action” in which Ford is sued for their Pintos that had the propensity to explode, killing people, when rear-ended. The movie depicts a ‘bean-counter’ approach whereby the projections of actuaries for probable deaths and injuries to car owners is weighed against the cost of re-tooling or re-manufacturing the cars. Quite the humanitarian approach! In my youthful optimism I was appalled at the time and assumed if they made a movie about this it would detour not only Ford but the auto industry from ever allowing this to happen, again. Right!

It may be unfair to lay all the blame on Ford and Toyota when, once again, it’s an a-hole culture that allows it. But, I have not owned a Ford since the movie and will never own another Toyota. When I purchase my new car I will do a search attempting to find a car company that has not committed any egregious crimes against humanity. I would like to suggest that you do the same. If you know of any please go to my website ( and let me know. How else can we change the culture? I don’t want to be accused of being a helpless pawn. Hopefully I (we) won’t have to revert back to a horse and buggy.

My take: the people at the top create the culture because they have the power. Toyota just announced a new CEO. We can only hope that the exiting CEO was fired for being a massive a-hole and the new one has perspective on what’s wrong and what’s right?