The LA Times vs. Toyota

About four years ago, former Los Angeles Times auto critic—a Pulitzer Prize winner, to boot—Dan Neil opened up a review like this: “At the moment the news broke, I had written two words of a review of the Pontiac G6: "Dump Lutz."” And it pretty much kept on in that vein.

About four years ago, former Los Angeles Times auto critic—a Pulitzer Prize winner, to boot—Dan Neil opened up a review like this: “At the moment the news broke, I had written two words of a review of the Pontiac G6: "Dump Lutz."” And it pretty much kept on in that vein. But this was a review, an opinion piece, not hard reporting.

One result of Neil’s eviscerating of the vehicle that Bob Lutz had once claimed would be as good as a BMW in ride and handling, so there were some pretty high expectations for what turned out to be, in Neil’s opinion, an “entirely adequate” car, was that General Motors pulled its advertising from the LA Times.

Their opinion clearly differed from that of Dan Neil. (Neil, incidentally, has moved on to the Wall Street Journal. The G6 and Pontiac Division have, well, moved on.)

l

C

I don’t know if Toyota is going to be doing the same with its advertising, but the LA Times has been doing some rather aggressive reporting related to the recalls. When I searched the site this morning with the terms “Toyota + recalls” there were 202 results, just 27 fewer than “Alec Baldwin.”

While there is much to be said about the reporting, a piece in today’s edition headlined “Toyota Workers Raised Safety Concerns with Bosses in 2006 Memo” by John M. Glionna really seems to be taking things a bit far. That is, evidently there is a two-page memo written by six Toyota assembly line workers in Toyota City who were part of the “All Toyota Labor Union,” established in 2006, “which opened its ranks to contract and part-time workers ignored by the major labor group.” Writing about All Toyota Labor Union founder Tadao Wakatsuki, Glionna writes, “He created a website to publicize his views. Then in the fall of 2006, six founding members drafted a memo warning Toyota about an impending disaster.” The disaster, apparently, was related to Toyota having recalled “more than 5 million cars” between 2000 and 2005.

While recalling that many cars is not a good thing, isn’t “disaster” a bit strong? On October 13, 2009, Ford voluntarily recalled approximately 4.5-million vehicles, and they seem to be OK.

The LA Times story also mentions a 65-page report produced in 2008 by the National Labor Committee, “a U.S. human-rights advocacy group.” In the report, “The Toyota You Don’t Know,” Toyota is “linked. . .to human trafficking and sweatshop abuse in connection with its importing of foreign guest workers from China and Vietnam to work in its Japanese factories.”

If this was, indeed, true, it is horrible. Yet this has something to do with electronics and brakes and floor mats how?

The story reports that in 2002 a 30-year-old Toyota assembly line team leader died “at his desk of sudden heart failure.” What’s more, “In 2007, a Japanese court ruled Uchino had died from karoshi—he had literally worked himself to death.”

Again, horrible. Yet what is the relevance to the situation at had?

What’s more, as they’re doing some digging, according to a paper titled “Karoshi-Death from overwork: Occupational health consequences of the Japanese production management,” Sixth Draft for International Journal of Health Services, (February 4, 1997), “The first case of karoshi was reported in 1969 with the death from a stroke of a 29- year old, married male worker in the shipping department of Japan's largest newspaper company.”

Imagine that. A newspaper.