From a high school auditorium near the birthplace of Elvis, Toyota was greeted like a hometown hero this week when it announced its eighth vehicle assembly plant in North America.
Students cheered as the automaker showed off a Highlander sport utility vehicle that will be built starting in 2010 at the $1.3 billion plant near Tupelo, Miss. Gov. Haley Barbour called Toyota Motor Corp. the "world's premiere auto manufacturer," and Sen. Trent Lott, the Senate's No. 2 Republican, promised "when you are in our constituency, we are warriors on your behalf."
Toyota could surpass General Motors Corp. as the world's No. 1 automaker next year, but the company has downplayed the significance, saying it's more concerned with its customers, maintaining quality and rolling out a lineup that includes the new Tundra full-sized pickup - built in San Antonio, Texas.
In U.S. sales released Thursday, the company had its best February ever, posting sales increases of more than 12 percent. Sales of its Prius hybrid grew 86.8 percent while Camry and Corolla sales showed hefty increases.
No, I didn't post this here at the Brain by mistake instead of at Fixer & Gordon. This story is as political as it gets.
Privately, Toyota officials acknowledge the potential pitfalls of growing rapidly in the U.S. during a period of job cuts and plant closings for GM, Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group.
But some members of Congress and advocacy groups question if Toyota is unfairly benefiting at the expense of U.S. automakers, who face large health care and retiree costs that they say are exacerbated by Japan's currency practices. The weak yen puts domestics at a price disadvantage of several thousand dollars per vehicle, they argue.
Members of Congress who support domestic automakers concede they face major hurdles. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., noted that "you can't swing a dead cat in the parking lot (on Capitol Hill) without hitting a Toyota or Honda or a Mitsubishi. I don't believe it's a political problem."
The Camry, after all, remains the nation's top-selling passenger car. Rogers, who grew up in the rural outskirts of Detroit, said he remembered the days when "you did not consider buying a foreign car. Now I think the attitude of America has changed."
I think that 'attitude' started 'changing' in about 1970, but it takes Congress and the auto companies a little while to realize the bad smell is from the mackerel they're being slapped in the face with. Besides, I live in Californiastan. We're just a buncha Jap-shit-drivin' commies anyway.
There wouldn't be a problem at all if 'Detroit' could produce vehicles of the same quality as Toyota et al at a comparable price. They fell behind in this and it's bitin' 'em in the ass. They actually have some pretty good models, many inspired by foreign partners, but they've relied too heavily on gas-guzzling SUVs and pickups: make what sells, don't plan ahead.
There is precedent: The exact same thing happened to the British and American motorcycle industries in the late 1960s when the head-in-the-sand attitude maintained that the Japanese couldn't produce good motorcycles. It was true at first - they made up for really pretty bad designs with very attractive prices, but look at them now: excellent machines, many assembled in the U.S., at reasonable prices.
Granted, the U.S. auto companies offered good benefits to their now aging workforce, and that has driven their health care costs up to the range of $1500 per vehicle. The 'Bigs' are now basically health care providers who manufacture autos to pay for it. Foresight past the quarterly earnings reports could maybe have helped.
See also this LATimes article:
Japanese automakers once again claim all the No. 1 spots in Consumer Reports' annual survey.
When it rains, it pours...