Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Toyota Prius? What about the old Ford Fairlane?

Toyota probably deserves some of the blistering heat coming it's way about various electronic defects — especially the sudden acceleration problems Apple's Steve Wozniak highlighted recently.

But Toyota was never the only offender. Back in the late Sixties, Ford had (and vigorously denied having) two problems — sudden acceleration and uncontrollable oversteering. I know, because it happened to me. I had to go offroad to the right after crossing the Squaw Creek bridge going East on 13th Street in Ames, Iowa, then down a steep incline and totalling the Fairlane I was driving sideways on a tree. Aside from putting a ding in my father's auto insurance, and paying a $50 fine for "property damage" (which my father paid), there were no major consequences, but that was a matter of dumb luck.

Feeling your car suddenly jackrabbit forward with a roar is disconcerting, at best. And putting the onus for dealing with such an unfamilar situation as violent oversteering on an unsuspecting driver borders on criminal.

Prognosis in the present instance? Toyota will purr and fawn until the big, angry public thing goes away, then make a minimal effort at improving public relations, but not quality control. Same as Ford. Detroit, you'll remember, wouldn't take quality control seriously until Japanese imports hit them in the gut.

China, which bears the same relation to laissez faire capitalism as Herbert Hoover and Al Capone, isn't likely to be the clean competitor that improves car-buying for American consumers, worse luck. The pendulum may (just maybe may) have swung back to Yankee ingenuity, but I doubt it.



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