Toyota not credited as innovator
Respect is a hard commodity to come by these days. A lack of respect seems more common than admiration for a job well done. Consider Toyota.
In recent years, the company displaced General Motors from the perch it had occupied for decades as the world's largest automaker. But while Toyota's business acumen is held in high regard, its ability to build vehicles is derisively likened to that of an appliance manufacturer. The company rarely gets the credit it deserves for innovation and influence.
The thought occurred to me at the media introduction for the 2013 Toyota RAV4 crossover SUV. When Toyota officials mentioned that the RAV4 is now in its fourth generation, I was stunned. Have there really been four versions? Well, yes.
The RAV4 debuted in 1995 with an SUV body plopped atop the Celica All-Trac platform.
At the time, American automakers were making a mint building SUVs using full-size pickup truck platforms. Given that GM and Ford each typically sold about 1 million pickups annually, using those platforms to create SUVs reduced costs. Considering that pickups and SUVs command higher prices than cars, the profits were, and are, enormous.
Toyota had a vehicle in this space: the 4Runner, a rugged truck, built atop the company's compact pickup platform. It was a serious off-road warrior, with a high ride height and rough ride. While popular, neither the 4Runner, nor the pickup truck platform it used, sold in the numbers seen by Detroit automakers.
Toyota wanted to tap into the trend, and the profits that came with it. But the company's high-volume models employed car platforms, not truck platforms. Toyota was able to turn this perceived disadvantage into an advantage.
Like all auto manufacturers, Toyota understood that while the increasing popularity of SUVs came from their rough, go-anywhere-lifestyle image, fewer than 5 percent of buyers ever took their SUVs off-road. Buyers increasingly used them as a replacement for mini-vans and station wagons. Off-road prowess wasn't needed; nor was the lack of refinement such ability brought with it.
By using a car platform, Toyota could still deliver all-wheel-drive capability along with a more refined driving experience.
The RAV4 was met with incredulous reviews when it debuted. But since then, Toyota's competitors have followed with 45 different crossover models, according to the company. Today, truck-based SUVs are the exception, not the rule.
And it was Toyota that got us there.
It's a similar story with gas-electric hybrids, a long-abandoned engineering concept that automakers had unsuccessfully toyed with for a century. Toyota dusted it off and perfected it, changing the face of fuel-efficient cars.
And let's not forget that Toyota pioneered the production system that all automakers now use to manufacture vehicles.
Critics often deride Toyotas for their bland styling and/or unrewarding driving experience. The reality is this: Toyota has changed the nature of the automotive industry, just as GM once did.
And even though auto journalists chastise Toyota's products, the fact is that Americans love them. That's why they buy so many of them.
Larry Printz is automotive editor at The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk; email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Rice, Gulfport team on Utica shale pipeline system
- Alcoa supplying parts for military jets under $1.1B pact with Lockheed Martin
- Renewed Anheuser-Busch InBev bid for SABMiller ups stake in beer battle
- Bear sharpens claws on ‘old Pittsburgh’
- Consumers bureau targets mandatory arbitration
- Google is latest tech giant to claim space in mobile news
- Power plants challenged by carbon capture and storage
- Energy efficiency goes mainstream with help of regulations, demand
- EDMC to lay off 115 more faculty and staff at Art Institute campuses
- Eat’n Park sells Cura division that serves hospitals and senior living
- AB InBev ups its offer for SABMiller to create beer giant