By Stanley Bing
March 15, 2010

This morning brings mixed emotions, I am sure, to Toyota executives, many of whom are probably considering the memo on their desks entitled “Procedures for Seppuku.”

On the one hand, there is the devastating, heart-rending front page overview in USA Today of all the poor folks who have died in mysterious circumstances over the past several decades in or due to Toyota vehicles, replete with pictures each. Whether the accidents were actually the cause of the cars themselves may never be ascertained. There are more than 2,600 complaints since 2000, involving 43 fatal accidents and 52 deaths.  Many seem to involve reckless driving by heretofore placid individuals who had never been known to careen down the road at speeds exceeding 90 miles an hour. So that looks pretty bad.

On the other hand, this morning the New York Daily News, citing AP and a number of auto blogs, reports that investigators trying to replicate the latest Prius atrocity, which took place in San Diego, have failed. This casts some doubt on the veracity of the purported disaster, at least for the moment.

You don’t want to be a pill on this thing. But it’s hard to figure out what’s really going on, what with the thundering noise of the elephants rampaging over the story, trumpeting as they go. Jack Welch recently tweeted (!) about the fact the wherever a Prius fails, the victims of the failure seem to have alerted a multiplicity of TV cameras. “Every Toyoda incident seems to have driver ready immediately to talk to TV camera…,” Neutron Jack tweeted, adding, “Could make one suspicious.”

Nobody wants maniac hybrids on the roads, of course. And if somebody’s to blame, you want them punished, quick. Come to think of it, we seem to want everybody punished, quick. It’s more fun than waiting.

The initial demand, when the Toyota Hindenberg started igniting, was loud and strong: get the head of the company, whose name isn’t even spelled correctly, on the stand! Get his butt in front of Congress so he can squirm! We love Kabuki. So we saw Mr. Toyoda. And he was sorry.

Frankly, I don’t know what to think. I’ve had a bunch of Toyotas over the years. All of them were absolutely perfect, if boring. I did have a floor mat once that seemed to get a little too intimate with the gas pedal. So I got rid of it. But the idea of a great company cutting corners to achieve higher margins is not out of the realm of possibility. And if it’s possible… how close is that to saying that it’s true?

How many of the sad faces staring out at us from the paper today were actually killed by their cars? It doesn’t matter. One is too many! And if they were in cars that have not been recalled, because to date nothing wrong has been found with them? Who cares. Recall them all, right? You can’t be too careful. I’ll tell you one thing. I’m not renting any suspicious vehicles until this is all cleared up. The problem is, it’s hard to find a car to actually drive, with so many automakers burning rubber to effect defensive recalls.

Which brings us to those trembling Toyota executives, looking at the newspapers today and wondering if there is a ray of sunshine in the lowering storm. Latest incident a hoax? Really? What do they feel? Hope? Sadness? Rage against the machine?

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