Considering the majority of people in the U.S. know little to nothing about automobiles in general it is no surprise that Toyota has become the brand standard for quality.
Not that Toyota makes a bad vehicle, but it seems by casual observation that the average Toyota buyer knows and cares far less about the vehicle they drive than most any other brand. Why is this? An average Toyota driver seems content to use the vehicle as an appliance, trusted and reliable as a toaster, but completely devoid of passion about their vehicle or the joy that can be derived from it. The problem with this is that it will lead to Toyota's eventual downfall. Cars are as much a piece of art and form as they are an appliance and function. Toyota has built and maintained the appliance portion of the equation but has let the passion die.
The last truly passionate or even interesting vehicle from Toyota must be the last generation Supra, sold in the US from 1993 to 1997. Nothing from Toyota since then has had any real appeal or interest beyond basic transportation. The company builds highly reliable machinery, unintended acceleration notwithstanding, but these days every manufacturer builds highly reliable machinery. If it were not for the longstanding reputation for quality Toyota deservedly earned through the 1970s and 1980s there would be nothing to separate Toyota from Kia, Hyundai, Chevy, Ford, or any other current high volume manufacturer. This is surely something on the minds of Toyota designers and executives as it is a path to mediocrity.
This divergence from excellence, and path to mediocrity, draws a certain type of buyer towards Toyota. People that are passionate about their cars do not choose a new Toyota. People that like to drive do not choose a new Toyota. People that have purchased Toyotas in the past and had a good experience with them as an appliance tend to buy Toyota again, but the reasons for this come back to utility and experience. As other brands continue to compete at the same or higher level of quality, and add additional measures of passion and character to their products, Toyota will find itself at a disadvantage. The reputation for quality has been dinged by the unintended acceleration scandal and only shortens the lifespan of the quality reputation in the marketplace, as a new generation of buyer comes online that only knows of Toyota quality by the words of their parents.
The solution to this problem is for Toyota to build, at long last, some interesting vehicles. Bring passion and performance back to Toyota and automobile enthusiasts will once again look at Toyota with respect, not disdain. Create a halo vehicle for each segment to bring passion to the entire lineup. Toyota's reputation will move beyond basic quality and begin to build as a fun and interesting manufacturer again. The path to mediocrity will be tilted towards a path to excellence earned through appeal to automobile enthusiasts. Similar to BMW, the Toyota brand would command respect rather than laughs.
Toyota certainly has the design and engineering resources to build respectable vehicles, they just need to be put to task. Bring back a GT sports coupe called the Supra, complete with a turbo inline six from its history, with enough performance to compete with a Corvette Z06. Build a performance version of the Camry, perhaps not radical, but something to compete with the Taurus SHO. Build a real performance version of Corolla or Celica to compete with the Mazdaspeed3. Consider a performance truck or SUV option, factory developed and built, more than the dealer installed TRD option packages. And bring back the MR2 but as a small convertible sports car with the passion and personality of the Honda S2000 and Mazda Miata.
Each of these vehicles should be done with segment leading performance in the entire envelope. Not just valiant attempts to be on the same level as its competitors, but blow-them-out-of-the-water homeruns. Make them so seductive with performance that there is no reason to consider an alternative. Not just pretty design and sheet metal, not vaporware. Not cost is no object design and technology, but innovative segment leading performance with segment relative pricing. The Lexus LFA supercar demonstrates a ridiculous implementation of technology but also a ridiculous price relative to its competition, nearly two times the price of a very similarly performing Ferrari. Toyota is in the unique position to resurrect some performance nameplates of its past, combined with the not yet completely tarnished quality reputation of today.
This would earn respect for the manufacturer as something more than an appliance, something more than just reliable. It would show that Toyota actually does have a heart to go along with its big brain. It would bring a younger generation of buyers to Toyota on the reputation and recommendation of automobile enthusiasts, not just the aging words of their parents. Toyota would matter again as a manufacturer and engineering house and finally restore some street-cred that is so lacking today, ultimately changing Toyota's path from mediocrity to superiority and respect in the marketplace.
This piece was written and submitted by a Jalopnik reader and may not express views held by Jalopnik or its staff. But maybe they will become our views. It all depends on whether or not this person wins by whit of your eyeballs in our reality show, "Who Wants to be America's Next Top Car Blogger?"