Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Toyota’s Problems

Today, electronics controls most cars. You press on a pedal and it sends a signal to the car’s computer. The computer activates some mechanism such as the throttle or brakes. I don’t know about you, but that makes me very nervous. Computers can fail. They are dependent on software that may have hidden flaws (called “bugs”). Computers can get unreliable if files become corrupted. Who among us haven’t experienced some sort of computer problem? Yet now we are placing our safety and maybe even lives in the hands of computers. Scary thought!

I believe some of Toyota’s sudden acceleration problems are due to faulty electronics. This will eventually be uncovered despite Toyota’s denials. I hope car manufacturers will go back to direct links for brakes, accelerator, and certain other functions of the car. I believe that is much safer.

Of course the question remains, how did things get so out of hand? Where exactly did Toyota fail? I don’t know, and maybe we’ll never know. Like so many other misadventures, it may be sloppy quality control, trying to cut corners to save a few bucks, or incompetence. In manufacturing there is always the pressure to save money, and this is balanced by concerns about quality, safety, and reliability. If a car company saves a million dollars by using an inferior part, design, or manufacturing process, they may lose many millions more with the cost of a recall.

Toyota had a reputation to uphold, but I suspect greed got in the way and inferior engineering or components were used on these cars to save money. I don’t know much about the company, but it is possible that its executives may not be particularly ethical, or at least used poor judgment. Just as we’ve had many unsafe, tainted, and shoddy products come into the United States from China, we may be seeing this happen with Japanese products. Who knows, this Toyota fiasco may be just the tip of the iceberg.

Let’s hope that greed didn’t get the better of Toyota executives and they compromised safety to help their bottom line.

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