During an unusually high-profile visit to Detroit, during this month’s auto show, Toyota CEO Katsuaki Watanabe deflected questions about beating GM, focusing instead on the subjects of the environment – where it is generally perceived the leader, due to the success of its Prius hybrid – safety and quality.
The last subject underscores another reason why Toyota officials prefer not to be seen grabbing for the sales crown. “When you’re number one, you have a target on your back,” said automotive analyst Joe Phillippi. And it’s already obvious, he said, that as it’s closed in on GM, Toyota is being scrutinized more closely by the news media, analysts and even consumers.
Quality problems, in particular, have gotten more space in news reports, particularly those involving the latest version of the Toyota Tundra pickup. There was widespread coverage, in normally-friendly outlets, when the influential Consumer Reports magazine pulled three Toyota products, including the Tundra 4x4, off its Recommended Buy list.
But barring even more serious setbacks, and even though GM has scored big with some recent products, the momentum in the U.S. still favors Toyota. Worldwide, the battle is closer, and may depend on whom can do a better job getting a foothold in key new markets.
While 2007 may be too close to call, 2008 seems likely to be leaning in favor of Toyota. But longer term? The battle is only getting serious.
GM: We’re Happy to Be Number Two. We're number two, but we try harder. By TCC Team (1/17/2008)
Toyota Ready for All Fuel Options, Addressing Quality Problems. by TCC Team (1/14/2008)