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Congress is Going to Take Your Truck Away

Have you heard the radio ads, the ones that say that Congress is considering new fuel economy regulations? According to these ads, Congress is going to take our trucks away. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers has stated that the new fuel economy bill being proposed in Congress by Sen. Byron Dorgan, Democrat from North Dakota, will result in ALL vehicles being smaller and more expensive. The alliance says that big vehicles, like family SUVs and pick-up trucks, will be hard or impossible to manufacture if these new fuel economy regulations take effect.

Here’s a link to listen to the ad that says we’re going to lose our trucks.

Here’s the link to listen to the ad that says we’re going to lose our big, safe SUV’s.

When I first heard the ads, I thought they were right. After all, if fuel economy must improve, then maybe cars will have to get smaller. Smaller vehicles weigh less, are more aerodynamic, and don’t need to be as powerful. Smaller engines usually mean better fuel economy. It makes logical sense, right?

Wrong.

Making a vehicle smaller is one way of improving fuel economy, but it’s not the only way. Better technology, like hybrid drive systems, hydraulic or pneumatic energy storage, plug-in battery packs, or alternative fuels are all ways that fuel economy could be improved. Not to mention simpler market-ready technologies like lightweight materials, turbochargers and superchargers, and direct injection. The fact is, these technologies could be easily implemented in vehicles and improve fuel economy without dramatically raising new vehicle costs. But according to the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (which includes GM, Ford, DaimlerChrysler, Toyota, VW, Mazda, BMW, Mitsu, and Porsche), any gains in fuel economy must come from making smaller vehicles.

In other words, bye-bye trucks and SUVs.

Why are these automakers trying to scare us? History has shown that every time the government has mandated newer auto regulations we’ve all benefited. Seat belts and airbags were resisted by automakers, but we all know how that turned out. Now we’re supposed to believe auto manufacturers when they say that tougher fuel economy standards mean that our kids’ lives are going to be at risk riding in the backseat of a Ford Festiva and that we’re going to do our hauling in Toyota’s that look like this. (See the story behind that photo here.)

I think the radio ads are misleading. For argument’s sake, let’s say that new cars got more expensive…so what? If a new car costs $2000 more, but it saves you $800 a year in gas, doesn’t that make sense? I think auto manufacturers are against this bill because it will hurt their profits…if their costs go up, their margins will go down.

What do you think?

Toyota Tundra Camshaft “Problem”

When you’re at the top of the food chain, everyone wants to eat your lunch. Toyota, arguably the MOST successful car company in the world, is sometimes a victim of its’ own success. When Toyota has a minor hiccup, the press lunges at the opportunity to discredit and devalue the company. Most recently, Automotive News has reported that “The launch of the all new 2007 Tundra full size pickup continues to go anything but smoothly” due to a mysterious camshaft failure found on the 5.7L V8.

Before anyone takes their new 5.7L down to their local Ford, Chevy, or Dodge dealer to trade it in, let’s evaluate the facts:

  1. Automotive news reports 20 instances of this camshaft failure, but this isn’t a complete number. There could be more, and there could be less. Weighed against the current total of 30,000 trucks sold, that amounts to a very small percentage of defects.
  2. To their credit, Toyota has acknowledged there is a problem with SOME of the 5.7L camshafts. If any camshaft has failed, Toyota may replace the entire engine according to correspondence with PickupTruck.com.
  3. If this were happening in a new Dodge, Ford, or Chevy, this wouldn’t be news. The fact is that the only reason camshaft failures are news is because they’re happening on a Toyota.

The bottomline: Until this starts happening with any sort of regular frequency, it’s not a problem. Toyota warranty’s the camshafts on a new Tundra for five years or 60k miles. If there is a defective camshaft in your truck, it’s going to grenade long before the warranty is up. If Toyota installs a new motor (and grants you an extended warranty on the rest of the power train), what’s the harm? Besides, it’s probably not going to happen to anyone that it already hasn’t happened to.

Toyota Customer Service: Tips for Getting Your Problem Solved

Few things are more frustrating than having a problem with your vehicle. In fact, there’s a good chance you bought a Toyota because you thought that it wouldn’t have any problems. Unfortunately, even a Toyota has the occasional issue. But what about when your Toyota car, truck, or SUV has a problem that isn’t resolved to your satisfaction? Maybe you’ve been to the dealership for the same problem multiple times, maybe you know that the vehicle has a known issue that Toyota isn’t acknowledging, or maybe you’ve just been treated poorly. In any case, here is how you can get what you want.

First tip — don’t call Toyota’s national customer service hotline unless you’ve already tried working the problem out with your dealer (see below). If you call Toyota’s national hotline right away, you’ll get the attention of the dealership and Toyota, but you’ve ruined any leverage you have over the dealer. Toyota dealers are graded on their customer service as much as they are on sales, and by informing Toyota of your dissatisfaction you’ve let the “cat out of the bag”. Now the dealer has less to gain by helping you — the dealer is more willing to help you if they know you’re not going to tattle on them to Toyota.

Second tip — your best hope for a solution is to work with your local dealer. Believe it or not, the dealership is invested in solving your problem because they know it’s the best way to make you a lifetime customer. Dealers spend thousands of dollars in advertising trying to create trust with their customers, but statistics show that the best way to create trust is to solve problems. Good dealerships know that solving customer problems is money well spent. Even if the dealership is the problem, your local dealer is still the best place to get a solution.

However, this doesn’t mean that a dealership will solve every customer service problem free of charge, or even solve them at all. In order for a dealership to justify spending money to solve a customer service problem they have to believe that they’re creating or preserving a customer relationship. In other words, if you want to get your problem solved, you’re going to have to convince the dealership that you’re going to be a good future customer and give them good publicity.

The best way to convince a dealership you’re going to be a good customer in the future is to show them you’re a good customer now. When working with anyone at the dealership, be nice. Let’s admit it — sometimes it feels good to yell at someone. But if you want to get the best customer service you’ll need the people at the dealership to like you. “Kill em’ with kindness” and you will prove you are a customer worth saving. Also, bragging about how many cars you’re going to buy, or that your company allows you to make purchase decisions, etc., doesn’t work. Everyone makes those claims. Instead, talk about how much you like the service manager, your salesperson, etc. These statements will do more to convince the dealer you’re a good customer than any bragging you can do.

Third tip — speaking with the general manager of the dealership is the best thing you can do to help yourself. While there are many managers in a dealership, the GM has the power to solve nearly any problem. The GM can pick up the phone and speak with one of Toyota’s regional executives, authorize an expensive repair, or even decide to warranty a vehicle. Toyota empowers every dealership general manager to act on their behalf — perfect for solving customer service problems. They also tend to have the most experience and maturity in the dealership, making them very easy to work with too.

If you’ve tried everything and the GM at your local dealership can’t help you, you have a couple of choices. You can call another local dealer and try over again with them, or you can contact Toyota Motor Company. If you problem is with your vehicle, you should try a couple of local dealers before you call. On the other hand, if the problem is with a dealership, then it’s time to call Toyota.

If calling, I suggest you try a two-pronged approach and call both your local Toyota regional office and the national help line. You can find the phone numbers below. While the local regional office will often refer you to the national helpline, with a little persistence you can speak with a regional executive about your problem.

To recap, when you have a problem with your Toyota that isn’t resolved to your satisfaction, start by working with your local dealership. The dealer wants to earn your faith and trust, and they will often go above and beyond to do so. When you speak with anyone at the dealership, be nice. You want them on your side. Ask to speak to the GM too — the GM has the power to solve your problem and they also have the full backing of Toyota. Finally, if the GM at your local Toyota dealer can’t solve your problem, work with Toyota’s national hotline and try to talk to someone at the regional office. If you’re persistent and you’re nice, you’ll get the best customer service possible.

NATIONAL HOTLINE: 800-331-4331

REGIONAL OFFICES:

  • Boston Office (ME, NH, VT, MA, RI) 508-339-5701
  • New York (NY, NJ, CT) 973-575-7600
  • Central Atlantic (PA, VA, WV, MD, DE) 410-760-1500
  • Southeast Region (NC, SC, AL, GA, FL) 954-429-2000
  • Cincinnati Region (MI, OH, KY, TN) 513-745-7500
  • Chicago Region (MN, WI, IL, IN) 630-907-0150
  • Kansas City Region (ND, SD, NE, KS, IA, M0) 816-891-1000
  • Gulf States Region (OK, TX, MS, LA, AR) 713-580-3300
  • Portland Region (AK, WA, OR, ID, MT) 503-493-4900
  • Denver Region (WY, CO, UT, NM, AZ, NV) 303-799-6776
  • San Francisco Region (Northern CA) 925-830-8300
  • LA Region (Southern CA) 949-727-2700

Toyota Tundra: Assembly Facts

Some interesting facts about the new Tundra and how it’s built:

To begin with, the Tundra’s style was formally approved in the US, making it the first vehicle that Toyota has ever stylistically approved outside of Japan. Toyota is clearly committed to building an American truck.

Additionally, the new Tundra is almost completely new. There are virtually no carryover parts from the 1st generation Tundra or from the Tacoma.

Most automakers build vehicles in batches — a group of crew cabs are assembled, then a group of two-wheel-drives, etc. This is done to make sure that the correct parts are installed on each vehicle. By building in batches, workers will only have access to the correct part for that type of vehicle i.e. only 2wd shocks available for a batch of 2wds, only tan interior parts for a batch of tan interiors, etc. and won’t be able to put the wrong part on a vehicle. Amazingly, the Tundra IS NOT built in batches — each vehicle is built to order. Toyota gains a lot of efficiency by building each truck to order (batch building is inherently uneven volumes) but the risk of putting the wrong part on a vehicle is much higher.

In order to eliminate the possibility of a worker putting the wrong part on a new Tundra, many parts are pre-sorted and organized by type and then put in a box (basically a shoe box) and sent along with the truck as it travels down the assembly line. Thus, when the truck arrives at a station, the worker pulls the parts they need out of a box, installs them, and then the truck moves to the next station.

Toyota also uses a very aggressive just-in-time inventory system to reduce waste and increase efficiency. For instance, when a new Tundra begins the assembly process, the seats are ordered from the supplier. Within 85 minutes of being ordered, the seats are assembled and delivered to the proper station on the assembly line. Considering the seats can contain upwards of 300 different components (depending upon configuration) this is quite a feat.

Welding and painting the new truck is almost entirely automated — about 400 robots perform 90% of the painting and welding tasks.

Finally, the Tundra is built upside down! The wiring, suspension, and many other frame connected components are assembled while the truck frame is upside down. When it’s time to attach the body, the truck is flipped over.

See 2007 Toyota Tundra: BIG for more information about the just-in-time system used for Tundra assembly and to learn more about the San Antonio campus.

Toyota’s still “Green” despite the new Tundra

Toyota is known the world over as one of the most progressive and environmentally friendly corporations around — one need look no further than Toyota’s commanding share of the US hybrid market for proof. However, some entities are critical of Toyota because they are debuting the largest, most powerful Toyota Tundra ever. The new 5.7L V8, in addition to being one liter larger than the engine it replaces, is expected to sell better than the previous model. According to some of these protesters, Toyota has taken a “step backwards” by building and selling this monster-sized truck and the huge engine in it, and they should be chastised.

Recently Freedom From Oil, an activist group that is focused on a “pollution-free, petroleum-free” vehicle, put up a banner protesting the new Tundra during the New York Auto Show. While I whole-heartedly agree that the world would be a better place if it were pollution and petroleum free (assuming of course that means a workable alternative), I think that Freedom From Oil is missing the boat here.

For starters, truck sales are a zero-sum game. Most industry experts agree the size of the large truck segment in the US is going to stay the same or shrink, meaning that fewer new large trucks will be sold this year than in the previous year. If Toyota sells more new Tundras this year, it will be at the expense of Nissan, GM, Ford, and Chrysler. In fact we’ve already seen that happen this year with domestic truck sales falling as Toyota truck sales stay level.

The large size and the supposed poor efficiency of the new Tundra is also a non-issue. If you accept that the Ford, GM, Chrysler, and Nissan products are all roughly equivalent in terms of fuel economy and efficiency, a person choosing to buy a new Tundra is hurting the environment no worse than if they choose a new F150, Silverado, Ram, etc. Combine the similar efficiency of large trucks between manufacturers with the fact that any increase in Tundra sales will come from a competitor and it’s pretty clear this is a publicity stunt.

Reading through Freedom From Oil’s press release, it’s obvious to me that the real motive is to tarnish Toyota’s image with the green set. I doubt this will work. For one thing, recently released “green rankings” from the Union of Concerned Scientists state that Toyota is doing a good job protecting the environment. In this study of auto manufacturer’s and their relative environmental friendliness, Toyota finished just behind Honda for second place. The closest domestic truck manufacturer (and the leader in the large truck segment) was Ford, ranking 6th place overall. Based on these results, it would seem that someone choosing a Tundra over a F150 would be BETTER for the environment, not worse as Freedom From Oil would lead us to believe.

Freedom From Oil is a great concept, but these activists might be more effective if their protests actually made sense.