Toyota’s “absolute minimum” approach to Avalon transmission issues

September 27, 2007

Toyota owners across the country and around the world waited for what seemed like an eternity for a fix to the problems plaguing the dreaded five-speed-automatic transmission in Avalons and Camrys. After denying any problems existed, in June Toyota finally released a TSB to address low-speed hesitation in Avalons.

As one of the hundreds of thousands affected, and one who had Bill Kwong, press and media relations manager for Toyota N.A., tell me as late as January, 2007 that they had no data to support any problems with Avalon transmissions, I didn’t know what to expect when I took my 2006 Avalon Limited in for the TSB.

After having the TSB EG029-07 (ECM CALIBRATION: ENHANCEMENT
TO SHIFTING PERFORMANCE & SMOOTHNES) performed, I was able to put on some miles to gauge the effectiveness of the TSB fix.

First the good news: the hesitation seems to be largely fixed. So if you haven’t had it done yet, as Larry the Cable Guy would say “Get ‘R Dun”.

Now the bad news: the shifts are still as weak and sloppy as my knee the day after having arthroscopic surgery. The tranny still hunts to find the right gear, but at least it never is totally disengaged.

Furthermore, the extremely hard downshift and torque-converter-induced engine braking that occurs while coasting down to 33 mph before the TSB is still there… The TSB just moved down to a shift point of 28 mph.

It seems that Toyota took a page from my elementary school academic playbook: it did the absolute minimum to address the problem.

So if you are a Camry or Avalon owner and you are dissatisfied with the problem, the next step is to call 1-800-331-4331, which is Toyota’s national Consumer Hotline. It takes just few minutes. They will create a trouble ticket. This is the ONLY way that Toyota engineers will get the message if you are experiencing trouble, since dealers and district managers are not forwarding complaints to any central trouble reporting center.

A Four Wheel Drift reader passed along that when she called, the representative she spoke with actually explained she experienced similar problems on her Toyota! The representative also mentioned that too many people complain on chat boards and to dealers, but never call the 1-800-331-4331 number.

If we all call 1-800-331-4331, Toyota will get the message that just doing the absolute minimum to make the Avalon “not dangerous” is simply not enough.

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Roger and Me, 2007 Style

September 24, 2007

Today the United Auto Workers called a national strike against General Motors.  GM has already released a statement regarding its disappointment.  The union and the corporation had been in long talks for quite a long time trying to ratify a new contract.

While most of the major media will likely look at this as a horrible event for both entities, I’m here to say that there is plenty of silver lining.

First and foremost, this means that production lines will stop putting out some of the most mediocre vehicles on the market.  Let’s face it, the fewer poorly designed Impalas that enter the rental fleets and horribly built Hummers that fall into the hands of soccer moms, the better we all are.

Secondly, this provides an opportunity for members of the UAW to once again see how unions are bad for companies, workers…let’s just say they’re bad for everyone except for the executives of the unions who draw large salaries and bonuses.   (It seems that the UAW membership needs a sub-union to negotiate with the UAW leadership for what really is in the best long-term interest of auto workers!)

As the UAW and GM are bleeding each other dry, the Japanese and European automakers will continue producing vehicles at non-union plants where job satisfaction, wages, benefits, job security and plant profits are all higher than Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey Pop Festival.

Finally, this all shows that no matter how many times GM, Ford…or any Fortune 500 company says that “things are going to change”, they seldom do.   When companies and unions recycle the same people, the same ideas and roadblocks that screwed things up in the first place, the same problems will keep coming back to haunt.

At some point, GM and UAW will need to accomplish a true paradigm shift — one where GM creates and maintains an environment where its employees feel more loyalty to the corporation than to the unions.  Only then can the General build desirable, well-engineered vehicles that enable long-term corporate health.


In Edsel’s Defense!

September 14, 2007

There has been quite a bit of discussion regarding a Time magazine article naming the “The 50 Worst Cars”. Chat boards, emails and water coolers already have hosted scorching debates on this piece… and you can bet that after I meet some looming deadlines on other projects, I’ll produce my own Speaker’s Corner soapbox soliloquy with the tone and content you’ve come to expect from The Four Wheel Drift.

(In other words, buckets of fire and brimstone coupled with more than enough automotive statistics and history to make a Gartner industry analyst look like he’s been working off Cliff’s Notes. )  

Until I have time to write such an article, there was something specific about this debate I had to address immediately…

I listened intently to the Bob Rivers morning show on KZOK FM radio in Seattle as they discussed the now infamous Time article. Bob and his co-host Spike had listeners owning cars on the list call in.

A woman with a 1958 Edsel Citation was put through.  She mentioned the car was undergoing restoration, but it had been a really nice driving and comfortable car not worthy of inclusion on the list.  Unfortunately, she admitted she didn’t know enough statistics about the car to counter much of the article’s gripes.

At that point, one of the DJs said twice “UNDERPOWERED.”

I almost choked.

Now, every single time that a list of worst cars appears, the Edsel is on there. There’s always the same regurgitated rationale for inclusion, such as “synonymous with failure” and locker room jabs about its front grill.

But saying the Edsel was underpowered is like saying Dick Cheney is too affable. 

Edsel misconceptions are all too common, so here are some interesting statistics that might clear up this one aired on KZOK, as well as a few others:

POWER:

There were four models within the Edsel brand in 1958. The Ranger and Pacer utilized the 303-horsepower 361-cubic inch V8. The $3,346 base Corsair and $ 3,535 Citation came standard with a 410-ci V8 producing 345-hp. For reference, the 1958 Chevrolet Impala’s top engine was the tripower 348 ci V8 with just 315 hp. The Pontiac Bonneville’s 370-ci V8 delivered either 300 from fuel injection or 310 from tripower. The top Cadillac was the 365-ci 335-hp V8 standard in the Eldorado. Even the Corvette’s top 283-ci V8 with fuel injection was just 290 hp.

So what were the only mass-produced American cars available in ’58 with more horsepower? Ford’s $3,631 halo model the Thunderbird came standard with a 300-hp 352-ci V8, but production records reference an optional 430-ci V8 with 350 hp – although it is not certain if any were actually so equipped.

Chrysler’s 392-ci Baby Hemi made 380 hp (or 390 ponies with dual four barrel carbs) in the $5,173 base priced 300D. DeSoto’s Adventurer had a 361-ci version of the Hemi producing 355 horses with the optional dual quads.

It was Edsel’s corporate brother Mercury that held the performance engine title in 1958 with all models available with a 430-ci V8 producing 360 hp (standard equipment in the $3,944 Park Lane) or the optional big-daddy 400 horse version.

INDUSTRY SALES:

In terms of sales, 63,110 Edsels were sold in 1958. This ranked as 12th in brand sales, only 571 cars behind Chrysler. Brands with worse sales in 1958 included DeSoto (49,445), Studebaker (44,759), Lincoln (17,134), and Imperial (16,133).

CORPORATE SALES CONTRIBUTION: 

Edsel made up 5.1 percent of FoMoCo’s total volume of 1,234,010 units from five brands in 1958. To put this into perspective, based on the recently released figures, General Motors sold 388,168 total domestic unit sales of all nine brands for August, 2007.  Of this, 5% (19,481) were Cadillacs, only 4.9% were from Buick (19,324 units), 1.1% (5,677) were courtesy of Hummer, and Saab chipped-in just 3,011 units – or 7/10ths of one percent of overall GM sales for the month. Even though Saturn finished the month with a 5.4-percent (21,117) monthly share,  it hovers at an Edsel-like 5.2% for 2007 calendar year contribution.

The Four Wheel Drift probably doesn’t have enough readership to save the Edsel from future “worst car” lists, but hopefully a little statistical analysis will make enthusiasts second guess what they read or hear.