Hall of Shame II, or Just be Happy Anyone at all Is Buying Your Car

Sometimes I get writer’s block and I sit here and stare at my computer waiting for ideas to hit me.  Sometimes I have an issue that just ticks me off, and the post writes itself. And sometimes, when I have no idea at all what to say, someone does something really stupid and does my work for me.

If Hertz was the company that put you in the driver’s seat, then Toyota is the company that put you in the driver’s seat then pushed the accelerator to the floor until you crashed.  Given the slack sales of automobiles due to the current recession, and the scary proposition it has become to put a key into a Toyota and turn the ignition, one would think that Toyota would be greatful for any sales at all.  One would be wrong.

At the New York Auto Show in 2007 there was an exhibition, albeit relegated to the underground entrance to the Javits Center, called the 100th Anniversary of the Taxicab.  The exhibition was supported by the city and the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, which was, and still is, searching for the “Taxi of Tomorrow”. Unfortunately, the search changes direction depending upon which way the wind is blowing. But that is another story. The Taxi show at the Javitz Center included some iconic vehicles of the past, early Checkers, a current Crown Victoria, and some potential taxicabs of the future, including the Standard Taxi (now the MV1), the Kia Rondo , and, if memory serves me, a Toyota Scion taxicab.

Given that background, and the fact that we began to see a few Scion taxicabs in Chicago, we decided to try them for ourselves. We tested about ten Scions as taxicabs with very favorable results. The vehicles were inexpensive to purchase, they were virtually problem free, they were easy to repair after accidents, and they were comfortable for both drivers and passengers. Add to that 20-25 actual mpg as a taxicab. Having finished our testing we found a dealership and enquired about buying the vehicles in bulk. We were initially told that they could possibly find us one vehicle per week (we change about 150 vehicles per year, and we add another 50), but after the markets crashed it became, “How can we help you?”. Now, mind you, this was a local dealership, not Toyota central that we were dealing with. In fact, we have a very solid relationship with the dealership. We are currently purchasing on average four Scions per week, and other fleets have begun purchasing both new and used Scions in Chicago as taxicabs as well.

Now we are up to date. So last week I get a forwarded copy of a memo sent by the Chicago Regional Office to the local Toyota dealers. The memo comments on the “influx in xB sales to Taxi Cab (note the spelling) companies during recent months in the Chicago market.”  It goes on to state that using the Scion as a taxicab “takes potential sales away from our core customers and degrades the brand.” Degrades the brand. How do you degrade the name of a company that is most known for killing owners and passengers with uncontrollable acceleration? And as for taking potential sales away, are they running out of cars to sell? What a good problem to have. According to her letter, “April YTD the median age of the Chicago Region Scion buyer was 36 and 72% of the customers were new to Toyota.” We have been using the vehicles for over two years. It doesn’t sound as if the buyer market has “degraded”. In fact, I would venture to say that the visibility brought to the vehicle by being on the road in plain sight every day has helped sales tremendously.

I am not an expert at vehicle marketing. If I was I would be working for a car company, and I would probably be out of a job right now. But I can’t help but think that if I were in their position, given the push in Toyota commercials to assure the public that they are once again diligent in their design and production, that I would jump on the chance to get affadavits from large and well know taxicab companies that have put hundreds of thousands of miles on these Scion xBs with no mechanical issues. But that’s just me. Instead, the Scion Manager (and I do not release names here because, as she told me on the phone, it’s not personal), “wanted to make it clear that Scion does not support selling vehicles to Taxi Cab (again, cute spelling) companies”, and reminded dealers that “all Scion sales are subject to Covenant compliance review at any time. I don’t know what that means, but it sounds like a threat to me.

Our dealers have assured us that the flow of vehicles will continue unabated, and indeed, the letter from the Tsar of Scionia admits that “Scion cannot dictate who a dealer chooses to sell a vehicle to.” But really. Get a grip.


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  1. On June 14, 2010 Chris Van Dyk says:

    I would be most interested in your take on the Ford Transit Connect.

    Nice to hear that Tokyo has the same problems Detroit used to have…..vis a vis customer relationships and marketing.

  2. On June 15, 2010 Taxi9n95 says:

    I met with the Ford rep in New York regarding the Transit Connect. They were interested in doing a pilot project to test in New York, and they were interested in the natural gas version for our CNG test in Chicago. Here’s my quick take: The TC is certainly less expensive than the MV1, but it is significantly more expensive than the Scion. Both the Scion and the MV1 have more room in the back seat than does the TC, but Ford says the next model year will correct that issue. The TC gasoline engine is rated at 16 (18?) mpg, the MV1 at 18. The Scion, regardless of what its rating is, gets an actual mpg in Chicago of over 20. If you consider the MV1 to be in a different category, since the price is higher but it is accessible, and you are just comparing to the Scion, the Scion wins hands down. Furthermore, the Scion is battle tested to over 200,000 miles in Chicago. Despite the fact that Toyota thinks we degrade the brand. I will probably test a couple of Transit Connects, just to see what they can do, but I don’t really see a niche for them in my fleet.

  3. On June 20, 2010 weihnachtsmanner says:

    I cannot believe that this can be true

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