Are you surprised that Toyota sales for the first quarter of 2007 surpassed GM’s? I’m not. In fact, I’m surprised it hasn’t happened sooner. The reason I say this comes from my own experience of owning dozens of vehicles since my first car in 1950, a 1937 Chevrolet my grandfather gave me when I was only 12 years old. As a youngster, my automotive engineering uncle and mechanic father taught me how cars were designed, built, and maintained. Later, I became an engineer myself and worked for an automotive component manufacturer that supplied parts to numerous companies around the world. I can tell you that from my experience, I believe most companies make fantastic engine blocks. In fact, many NASCAR teams purchase “green” Chevy blocks for their racers. The finished engines hold extremely tight tolerances, are made of exotic materials, and some passenger car owners report that they can survive 200,000 miles and more. Unfortunately, these mighty engines will cease running when any one of several “itsy bitsy” components that are fastened to them fail.
For example, I have experienced an idle-speed actuator failure — before 20,000 miles – in three of my previous “American” cars. It is a small electric motor that controls the position of the butterfly in the throttle body. When the engine turns off, the electric motor moves the throttle butterfly to less than normal idle position. When the ignition switch is turned on, the electric motor quickly moves the butterfly to normal idle position so the car can start. The actuator’s failure mode in my cars was not surprising; it remained below idle position regardless of ignition switch mode, and the car would not run. I have been stranded on long trips twice in two different cars, and my wife experienced the same problem in a rental car.
I believe I also know the reason for the idle speed motor failure; they cost the car company about $1.50. To add insult to injury, the dealers charge $75.00 for them and $200.00 to replace. Can you imagine what the component supplier had to cut out of the original design (that would have cost $49.00) in order to sell it for $1.50? How can it be reliable? I also owned a Toyota at the same time I owned two “American” cars. I had other multiple failures with components in them, and none with the Toyota. I used the Toyota to chase parts for the other cars. I could never get 100,000 miles out of an “American” car, but I sold my Toyota after 150,000 miles and 12 years. The only Toyota “failures” I had, after 100,000 miles, was a fatigued timing belt and worn-out brushes in the alternator.
Obviously, Toyota uses higher quality components to support their engines, and they probably pay more for them than do the other automakers. “American” automotive CEOs apparently just do not get it. I suspect this is what happens when bean counters run the company instead of engineers. It should be no surprise then that Toyota’s reputation for reliability contributed to beating GM.
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Filed Under: Automotive