Media

Toyota's Troubles and Media Vultures

By Ted Mitchell
Published March 01, 2010

I've been amused by the newsmedia's recent attempted dismantling of Toyota's reputation. Has Tiger Woods traded his dented Cadillac for a Toyota?

Toyota has had an awful lot of recalls lately, and has done a poor job of post-marketing quality control. But recalls are generally relegated to the fine print on page 17 of the automotive section. Would all the media attention then mean that Toyota has lost its edge on quality or is it unwarranted criticism?

Reliability is one of the most important factors people cite for buying a car. I argue brand reputation should be based on something more solid than marketing hype or media spin.

Consumer Reports tracks problem data from millions of owners in 17 categories over the previous six model years. From this they come up with a single metric of predicted reliability for the new model year, not including discontinued and completely new models.

There are five categories, which I've assigned a number so we can analyze them.

Reliability Categories
CR Reliability Description Numeric Score
Much worse than average 1
Worse than average 2
Average 3
Better than average 4
Much better than average 5

Every model has a unique score, and these have been grouped according to manufacturer. Let's look at the results, ranked by mean reliability score:

Automobile Models by Mean Reliability Score
Manufacturer 1 2 3 4 5 Total models Mean Reliability Score
<< Av < Av Av > Av >> Av
Scion 0 0 0 0 3 3 5.0
Infiniti 0 0 0 0 2 2 5.0
Honda 0 0 0 6 5 11 4.5
Toyota 0 0 4 5 9 18 4.3
Lexus 0 0 1 5 1 7 4.0
Acura 0 0 0 5 0 5 4.0
Mitsubishi 0 0 0 1 0 1 4.0
Hyundai 0 0 2 5 1 8 3.9
Kia 0 1 1 2 1 5 3.6
Lincoln 0 0 2 2 0 4 3.5
Mazda 0 0 5 2 1 8 3.5
Mini 0 0 1 1 0 2 3.5
Nissan 0 1 7 4 2 14 3.5
Saab 0 0 1 1 0 2 3.5
Subaru 0 0 2 2 0 4 3.5
Suzuki 0 1 0 0 1 2 3.5
Ford 0 0 11 3 1 15 3.3
Mercury 0 1 3 1 1 6 3.3
Volvo 0 1 2 2 0 5 3.2
BMW 0 2 1 2 0 5 3.0
Buick 0 1 1 1 0 3 3.0
Hummer 0 0 1 0 0 1 3.0
Pontiac 1 1 3 0 1 6 2.8
Porsche 1 0 1 1 0 3 2.7
GMC 0 3 3 0 0 6 2.5
Mercedes 2 0 6 0 0 8 2.5
VW 1 3 2 1 0 7 2.4
Chevrolet 3 2 8 0 0 13 2.4
Audi 1 1 2 0 0 4 2.3
Dodge 4 0 2 1 0 7 2.0
Chrysler 3 0 2 0 0 5 1.8
Jeep 3 1 0 1 0 5 1.8
Cadillac 2 1 1 0 0 4 1.8
Saturn 2 1 1 0 0 4 1.8
Land Rover 1 0 0 0 0 1 1.0

Toyota products are shown in green, along with Honda nearly sweeping the top of the chart. Also mentionable is the lone 'much better than average' score for Pontiac might be because it belongs to the sister model of a Toyota.

These data are based on the 2003-2008 model years, and therefore don't account for recent recalls. I will revisit this in a year or two to see if Toyota has a precipitous fall from the top. Don't hold your breath.

Ted Mitchell is a Hamilton resident, emergency physician and sometimes agitator who recently completed a BEng at McMaster University. He is fascinated by aspects of our culture that are harmful, but avoid serious public discussion.

17 Comments

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By al rathbone (anonymous) | Posted March 01, 2010 at 08:24:40

I think you answered your own question as to why it was front page. Toyota is know as a very reliable vehicle and now they're having HUGE recalls.

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By UrbanRenaissance (registered) | Posted March 01, 2010 at 08:36:04

I also suspect the hype is due (in part) to American lawmakers "circling the wagons" around their own beleaguered auto industry. Despite the fact that "foreign" auto makers employ thousands of Americans.

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By ds (anonymous) | Posted March 01, 2010 at 08:40:47

Everybody has recalls, we live in a non perfect world and are non perfect people.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted March 01, 2010 at 12:13:17

I found this article, which may explain things

http://globalresearch.ca/index.php?conte...

or this article

http://globalresearch.ca/index.php?conte...

But Japan is also trying to get the US military out as well, so that too could have something to do with it.

http://globalresearch.ca/index.php?conte...

Comment edited by grassroots are the way forward on 2010-03-01 11:18:33

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted March 01, 2010 at 13:58:29

I'm not one to pick sides here, but before we go all black helicopter, take a read of this:

http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/has-abc...

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 01, 2010 at 16:00:52

so the same media that has spent the better part of the past 5 years ripping apart GM/Chrysler etc.... is somehow up to some sinister plan when Toyota gets a bit of bad news?? The only news is bad news to most media outlets. It just so happens that some bad news came from Toyota for a change instead of the usuasal suspects who offer more than enough material to fill entire newscasts.

this doesn't really help either:

http://www.leftlanenews.com/toyota-tops-...

Comment edited by jason on 2010-03-01 15:07:59

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By frank (registered) | Posted March 03, 2010 at 10:59:07

Jason, I love numbers but I'd like to see number of recalls based on number of vehicles sold not just number of recalls. I'd also like to see those recalls broken into mandatory and voluntary recalls. CR numbers are largely based on consumers' impressions, hence the name. Toyota still has very high sales rates despite all the media hype.

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By fronk (anonymous) | Posted March 03, 2010 at 20:48:21

Are voluntary recalls really all that voluntary lately? No other company is willing to let themselves get hauled in front of the big beak for delaying things, which is why we're now seeing a rash of big recalls from the former-big-3.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 03, 2010 at 20:59:45

I'm guessing the media hype is due to the people that were killed in these cars with the faulty pedals. Not quite the same as a car with a floppy bumper.
I've read stories for yeeeeaaaars about car recalls, but this is the first time I've heard anyone accuse the media of singling out a 'japanese' company. Recalls seem to be on the news every month. Apparently its fine unless it's a non Big-3??

I don't think Toyota really needs to worry about their sales. Look at the competition. LOL

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted March 04, 2010 at 07:46:21

An interesting sideline is this: http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/shame-o...

Despite an apparently terrifying life threatening ride and discovering that her car not only accelerates out of control but also tries to start itself, she turned around and sold the car to another family. 27k harmless miles later, Toyota took the car from them.

Imagine getting a call from your manufacturer saying that your car was actually one of the cars that actively tried to kill someone.

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted March 04, 2010 at 08:14:57

More headaches for Toyota: http://detnews.com/article/20100304/AUTO...

Is it still "media hype" when fixed cars exhibit the same problems as before they were fixed? Or is it a giant corporation desperate to be seen "doing something" as they scramble to find the ghost in the machine?

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted March 05, 2010 at 09:13:17

Still more data is coming out:

http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/deeper-...

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story...

Take a rare problem and multiply it by a huge market share...

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 05, 2010 at 09:59:59

man....crazy numbers. Let's hope for a solid fix to this problem. I'm no car expert, but generally Lexus-Toyota-Audi-VW have a great rep for safety and quality.
Strange to see them dominate the top of the charts.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted March 05, 2010 at 13:27:04

A different look at the data:

http://www.businessweek.com/print/lifest...

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted March 05, 2010 at 16:58:39

It's easy to forget that complaints<>problems.

Anyone who's spent any significant amount of time in the service industry will confirm this!

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted March 08, 2010 at 08:23:03

A report about a fix in a car:

http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/toyota-...

The "smoking gun" ABC report proven to be a fake:

http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/toyota-...

Comment edited by Brandon on 2010-03-08 07:27:29

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted March 09, 2010 at 07:43:52

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