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We’re Through, Toyota

My love affair with Toyota was as old as this ad, but no more.

I’ve been a Toyota fangirl for as long as I can remember. My eco- and budget-aware parents always owned Toyotas; in fact, I learned to drive stick in a ’78 Corolla (that’s it in the picture). That was the start of my love affair with this brand: I graduated from the Corolla to a swank ’85 Cressida, snagged the Matrix the year it came out, succumbed to the suburban siren call of the SUV and picked up a 4Runner along the way, had two torrid affairs with Lexus (that counts) and finally saw the eco light of day with the Prius in which I currently trundle to work daily with fingers crossed that my floor mats won’t bite off my feet or otherwise cause me bodily harm.

I’ve only owned ten cars over the course of my adult life. SEVEN were made by Toyota. Please keep this in mind.

One recent Saturday the Russian tells me we’ve received a “VIP invitation” from our local Toyota dealer to thank us for our support during Toyota’s current difficulties (by “difficulties” they meant this) and offer a SPECIAL ONLY FOR US zero-percent down/zero-percent financing deal on the 2010 Prius.

The Russian has been known to fall prey to “too good to be true” offers before (though I probably would too if I were flooded with junk mail daily in a language not my own) – so to be on the safe side I scrutinize this letter within an inch of its life. I’m looking for the fine print and the disclaimers and I can’t find any so off we go to Toyota! We’re gonna buy a new Prius! And we’re gonna save LOTS OF MONEY!

Forget that we have to wait 30 minutes for our “VIP appointment” because our salesman (who we’ve known since my son was in diapers and from whom we’ve bought three cars) decided to meet with some walk-ins first. We finally sit down and with that VIP SPECIAL ONLY FOR US offer in my hand, I tell him we’re keen to get our mitts on that sparkly new 2010 Prius.

Will you be surprised to learn there were strings attached to this deal? Will you be shocked to hear the VIP SPECIAL ONLY FOR US offer was only good if the dealer deemed our current car worthy of trade-in? Will you be amazed to know the salesman from whom we’ve bought three cars delivered this news casually and without apology? And despite the “I want to buy a new Prius let’s talk” tattoo on my forehead, that he made no effort to engage us in any kind of negotiation?

The Russian was mute through all this, probably hoping that if he got very quiet it would offset whatever rage I was about to vomit all over this salesguy.  I knew we were about to truck out of there in the same car we’d come in with no VIP SPECIAL OFFER FOR US and no sparkly new Prius, so why not let ‘er rip?

What I wanted to say:

Really, Toyota Salesguy? REALLY? Do you think this is a good time to be hoodwinking loyal customers with bogus offers? Do you think at a time when NO ONE wants to buy your death trap Prius that maybe you’d want to treat those who do with a little more courtesy and consideration? Do you think maybe, just maybe, you should get your manager down here to your cubicle and make him apologize for inconveniencing us with his slimy sales tactics and taking up the better part of our Saturday morning with this goose chase? I am a trained public relations professional, Toyota salesguy, and I know a communications crisis when I see it and believe you me, you guys are in the MOTHER of all crisis situations and companies in crisis should not PISS OFF THEIR LOYAL CUSTOMERS.

What I actually said:

Gosh, Toyota Salesguy, this is really disappointing. I guess there’s nothing to talk about so we’ll be going now.

 Because I’m tough like that.

Look,  I realize the boneheaded sales ploy of a manager desperate to drive showroom traffic is not the fault of the corporate overlords – after all, they’re too busy cranking out all those TV spots that “put a face” on the hardworking technicians of Toyota who believe in these cars and “drive them too!” – what do they know about what happens on the front lines?  But the combination of seemingly endless recalls with false advertising/crappy service at the local level – well, there are plenty of auto makers who’d be thrilled to take my money (and my loyalty) right about now. (Oh, and whose cars don’t accelerate uncontrollably and kill families in fiery crashes.)

We had a good run, Toyota. 26 years and seven cars, to be specific. But no more. A girl can only take so much heartbreak.

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  1. March 10, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    Here’s what I don’t understand… you’ve have seven cars in 26 years?

    I think I had seven cars by the time I was 22. Stephanie, I’m just not sure I can believe you any longer.

    Also, it’s not a Toyota issue, it’s a dealership issue. I have two BMWs and they came from two different dealers. We’re ready for a new one, and I know which dealer I wouldn’t buy from again.

    • ssmirnov
      March 10, 2010 at 1:28 pm

      Ten cars in 26 years, seven of which were Toyotas. Don’t forget my L.A. friend — I lived in Manhattan for a decade during which time I didn’t have a car. Which is normal. And I realize my issue was the dealer but Toyota has bungled the recall situation from day 1 and that comes from corporate. It’s a one-two punch for me and I’m ready to move on. There’s a BMW in the driveway now and am pretty sure an Audi is about to join it. Time to play with the Germans for a while.

  2. March 10, 2010 at 5:04 pm

    Wow that is insane- copy and paste this post into an e-mail to the General Sales Manager- and the owner of the dealership, and wait for them to come crawling, seriously. There is something really wrong with a (supposed) sales man who isn’t falling all over himself to sell you a new car (a new Toyota no less!) Even if their super special VIP offer did have some tough strings, there is always something that can be done!! That guy shouldn’t have a job if there are people looking for work where you live.

    • ssmirnov
      March 10, 2010 at 6:36 pm

      Thanks, Katie. I was actually contacted by the community managers at the Toyota Twitter account right after I posted, which is great. I realize they can’t control what the dealers do and you’re probably right, I need to contact the bosses locally. There’s part of me of that just wants to move on now that I’ve vented my spleen all over the interwebz and just go buy an Audi 🙂

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