Last year I took advantage of the sour economy to fulfill a dream.  Since I was 16 years old I have been skidding off the road, crashing into snowbanks, running over fences and sliding backwards down hills every winter.  In my defense I live in New England and spent many of those years driving a crappy rear wheel drive pickup truck.  I upgraded to a Toyota Corolla a few years back, and while front wheel drive was a vast improvement, I confess I was still chock full of envy when big SUV’s blew past me in the left lane as I white knuckled my steering wheel in the snow.

But no more.  Last fall I bought my very first all wheel drive vehicle – a shiny new Toyota Matrix.  I stuck with Toyota because I loved my Corolla.  It was the most reliable car I had ever owned and I couldn’t imagine buying anything else.  For 12 blissful months I feared no snow, no rainy night.  I drove right up that north facing hill covered with an inch of packed ice.  I rejoiced in my sure footed steering with each new storm.  And then…  the recalls.

Yesterday I received a kindly (albeit useless) email from my dealer.  They were so sorry for the inconvenience.  They would do “everything within their power to restore my confidence in my vehicle and Toyota”.  What’s not within their power?  To turn back time and respond differently to the situation.  You only get one chance to do the right thing when faced with a crisis of this nature and magnitude, and frankly, they blew it.  The avalanche of Toyota recalls that has been rolling down the mountain since January of 2009 is staggering.  From floormats to brakes to electrical issues it seems like the brand that was built on reliability is crumbling like dust.  Yet this is the first official communication I have received about my car – the first quiet suggestion that perhaps something may be amiss.  As if I cannot read.  As if I don’t have access to the internet. As if they had no concern whatsoever about the possible future revenue they might gain from communicating with loyal customers that might someday need to buy another car.

Sometime next year after the dust has settled perhaps we will hear that during the tough economic times, Toyota made some poor management choices.  We may learn that they cut costs in places that ultimately resulted in less than adequate quality control.  We may learn that some or all of this was avoidable.  But what is beyond recovery is the opportunity Toyota had to step up to the plate and service the customers that had already paid for their vehicles before fixing the new cars coming off the line.  Today as I type this, I cannot yet get the part that will make my car safe, yet I just watched a Toyota commercial in which they are touting their “quality assured” vehicles.

So watch closely my friends as a big car company learns a lesson my 7 year old son could have told them how to avoid.  If you’re wrong, admit it, fix it, and then say you’re sorry.  In that order.

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