Sometimes good fortune comes at the expense of others misfortune; this seems to be the case with Toyota and the Big Three automakers of Detroit. With Toyota’s recall of nearly 10 million cars for acceleration and braking problems, Ford, GM and Chrysler are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Toyota, which for the last ten years has been eating Detroit’s lunch with dependable and fuel efficient cars, is now running television ads apologizing in typical Japanese fashion for keeping their eye off the ball.
Although Toyota’s bad news may bring good news to Detroit, remember that many of the Japanese cars are made right here in the United States, places like Georgetown, Kentucky, where the townspeople are entering a stage of high anxiety as they see the potential for the loss of jobs and revenue. It seems inevitable that there will be downsizing and layoffs, at least in the short run in places like Georgetown.
The lesson to be learned here is that the Japanese car makers are not immune from making mistakes or letting their corporate guard down. Toyota is not the only Japanese manufacturer to hit upon bad times – Honda has problems with its Fit model, Japanese Airlines just went bankrupt and Apple is driving a huge hole through Sony’s domination of the electronic gadget market. The Japanese, who never really got out of their recession in the 1990s, now see the Toyota crisis as evidence that their economy and their manufacturing system is in dire need of repair.
Undoubtedly, Toyota will fix the problem and make extraordinary efforts to get market share back, along with its reputation. Toyotas remain solid automobiles with a huge world-wide following, so it would be foolish to count them down and out. But fortunately for Detroit, the problems of Toyota couldn’t have come at a better time. Ford is now making some great cars, GM is about to introduce its Volt electric car, and Chrysler is finally starting to get its act together.
We may just be entering a new era of Made in America, at Toyota’s expense. For the floundering Big Three, Toyota’s apologies translate into big smiles in Detroit.