February 21, 2010

It’s all about perception

Filed under: Commentary — rnvanya @ 12:48 am
Tags: , ,

With marketing, perception is more important than reality.

For instance, there has persisted for some years a widespread perception (based mostly on marketing hype) that Toyota and other Japanese autos are in many ways superior to American autos.

I never bought into that notion, which I always felt was based more on perception than on solid facts.

Want a job in Toyota marketing department?

And now we have irrefutable facts that (to me, anyway) prove that Toyota autos are not what they are cracked up to be —

• To date, more than 8.5 million Toyota vehicles have been recalled (by far the largest auto recall in history).

• The four separate recall programs are not because of minor problems. Every one is due to factory defects of major, critical components that, during malfunction, can cause a driver to lose control of a vehicle —

1. Accelerators that arbitrarily stick (even at high speed) and cannot be unstuck;

2. Accelerators that arbitrarily get hung up on floor mats;

3. Brakes that arbitrarily stop working;

4. Drive shafts that arbitrarily crack and fall off of vehicles, causing the driver to lose control.

• Mr. Toyoda (that really is his name), the highest exec for Toyota, has drawn sharp criticism around the world, and especially in Japan, for his mishandling of the whole fiasco.

Nobody knows for certain how the Big Toyota Recall mess will all play out, but to me it clearly proves my point that perception generally means more than reality.

Yes, I know there are many who can provide stories about his or her amazing Toyota, Honda, Nissan, or Mazda vehicle that has been such a wonderful, reliable vehicle. And when folks tell these stories they always talk about how the vehicle has over 120,00 or more miles on it, etc. etc., etc.

To which I say: “Big deal. So what?”

There are just as many owners of Chevys, Fords, Buicks, Chryslers, Jeeps, Hummers, Cadillacs, etc. that can provide the same sort of stories. Just take a random look around you while you drive anywhere around any U.S. city or town and notice the large number of GM, Ford, and Chrysler (or Dodge or Plymouth) vehicles that are 15 years and older still on the road.

GM has been Rock Solid for me

Consider my own story. Here’s a list of GM vehicles my wife and I have owned since the late 1980s — a 1986 Olds Cutlass, a 1986 Olds Ciera, a 1989 Olds Ciera; a 1986 Chevy Suburban; a 1995 Geo Prizm; a 2001 Chevy Impala; a 2003 Saturn Ion; and a 2005 Chevy Equinox.

Now, get this track record —

When I traded in every single one of these GM vehicles, each one had more than 120,000 miles on it. And guess what — NOT ONE OF THE VEHICLES HAD EVER BEEN IN ANY SHOP FOR ANY TYPE OF MAJOR ENGINE REPAIR. The only type of repair work done on any one of the GM vehicles we drove were the typical routine jobs that are common to all vehicles — things like replacing a battery, or replacing worn out belts or hoses, or replacing turn-signal bulbs. And I was so glad I drove a GM vehicle the few times I’ve had to make minor repairs, because there’s never a concern about finding parts. GM parts are readily available nearly everywhere, and almost always cost less than equivalent foreign brand auto parts.

We are still driving the 2003 Saturn Ion, which is now approaching 140,000 miles and “runs like a top” (as the saying goes).

Wonder how many auto owners are able to match that sort of performance — 8 GM vehicles, each one providing more than 120,00 miles of reliable service, with no major repair work (just typical, routine maintenance).

I remember when I was about to purchase the 2001 Chevy Impala. I did a lot of Internet research, and had narrowed my choices down to two vehicles — either a Chevy Impala, or a Toyota Camry. I chose the Impala, and here’s why — the Impala’s sticker price was less, the Impala got the same gas mileage as the Camry, the Impala had more interior space and more cargo space, and the Impala had a smoother ride. Boy, am I ever glad I chose the Impala, which turned out to be perhaps the best vehicle we ever owned. The only maintenance it ever required was regular oil changes. That’s it. Period. It gave us nearly 130,000 miles of trouble-free service before we traded it in.

The original tires on that Impala lasted for more than 90,000 miles. When I put new tires on it, there was still enough tread on those tires to perhaps push it to 100,000 miles, but I did not want to push it. The tire store owner was amazed that the tires were the original tires and had so many miles on them. “But, then again, in some ways it does not surprise me,” he said. “That model of Chevy Impala is one of the most perfectly balanced vehicles ever made, and I’ve heard so many stories about what a great car it is.”

And by the way, the purpose of this blog post is not to bash Toyota, or any other Japanese auto brand. I currently own a Honda Element (good vehicle so far, knock on wood). I have owned a Toyota, and it was a good vehicle. My point is merely that the idea that vehicles made in Japan are superior to American-made vehicles is greatly exaggerated and cannot be backed up with solid facts. It is perception, not reality.

And so, while perception may continue to sway many in what they purchase, I, for one, always try to base my purchases on solid facts and personal research (that’s also why I have purchased only Apple Macintosh computers for many years, and why I stick with Nikon digital SLR camera equipment).