Echo Boomer’s Take on Toyota’s Sticky Situation

by Dan Sherman

Today’s Toyotas practically remove the “driver” part of Car and Driver.  With pinky finger-light steering, loads of electronic driving aids, and auto-park ability, even your precious octogenarian grandmother can drive one. While their engineering doesn’t excite the automotive enthusiast, Toyota’s reputation for quality and their “everyman” driving experience are seemingly what millions of consumers around the world want.

Based on recent events, Toyota’s stellar reputation for quality may be in jeopardy.  Unless you live under a rock, or are an Echo Boomer (more on that in a minute), you can’t possible miss the news about Toyota’s “sticky” situation.  The company is in the midst of the largest recall in automotive history because of a design flaw in their accelerator pedals that MAY cause them to get stuck in the “GO” position.

But I’m not here to hate on Toyota. My humble objective, as with all Echo Booming posts, is to measure the effect of this enormous global recall on Generation Y.  The question posed to me is as follows: “Is your generation more likely to be forgiving of a design flaw based on your experiences technology?”  The thought behind that query is that “we” grew up with technology that often needs to be…how to say this..”rebooted”. Even the AMAZING iPhone constantly needs updates.  Are we more understanding of an issue the likes of the one Toyota is experiencing?  Does it change our perception of the brand?

I first solicited my network of Echo Boomers for their pre-recall thoughts on what comes to mind when they think “Toyota.”  The most used brand-identifying adjectives used were plain, boring, and middle—specifically, aimed at the middle-aged and middle-class.  Surprisingly, only about a quarter of my interviewees invoked the terms reliable/dependable, low-maintenance, or high-quality.

Now, let’s rehash the staggering numbers:

A)   Globally recalled  Toyotas = 7.5 million

B)    Of those, sticky throttle recalls = 2.3 million

C)    Models removed from showroom floors = 8

D)   Rumors flying around sticky throttle cause = ∞

Only the few of my peers who keep current with business news had any clue to the existence of the situation.  After explaining it to those that were unaware, I received a range of reactions from, “Now I DEFINITELY won’t buy one!” to, “Eh, no big deal.”

Will this cause Echo Boomers to permanently shy away from buying Toyotas?  The quarter of my Echo Booming base that associates Toyota with reliability found the recall slightly unnerving, but would only add slight hesitancy to a future Toyota purchase.  Of the other three-quarters, responses were more polarized—about half claimed 100% adversity to buying a Toyota, while the other half rationalized that “these things happen can happen to any large manufacturer and are of no major concern to [us].”

My generation’s ignorance is Toyota’s gain.  While older folks impeach the King of Dependability, Gen Y remains relatively unaware of both Toyota’s image of reliability and its recent recall.  Furthermore, my 20-something brethren barely associate Toyota with its youth-oriented Scion brand.  Unless xBs and tCs factor take up the family business of accelerating on their own, Scion is safe.  Toyota may be waist-deep in the red for the moment—or even years—but many a 2010 Camry will survive to see the day when Toyota regains its crown.

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