My first car was a Toyota Corolla, model KE 30, and I bought it new after my housemanship for a princely sum of Rm11,500 in 1978.
That car was not equipped with air conditioner, although there was a very basic radio and cassette player. CDs was not invented yet. During that era, we were still using turn tables to play records three times the size of a CD.
Proton Saga was not around yet and maybe that was the reason that car was still relatively affordable. But unlike now, when you can practically go to a new car dealer and just give a few hundred dollars for deposits and get almost 99% loan financing, we had to save up about 20% of the cost of the car for down payment, before any banks or finance companies would approve your loan.
The car ran superbly. Until the time when I sold it in 1986, almost 8 years later, it had never once broke down in the middle of the road. I had no worry; every morning I just jumped into the car and without fail, the car would star when I turned the ignition.
In 1982, I came down to KL and my Corolla was stolen in one of the Pudu back lanes. Since public transport was almost as bad as now, and I stayed 13 kilometers from where I worked, I had to get a second hand car, a European brand (which I bought for only 3000, believe it or not).
Compared to my Corolla, this car was horrible, breaking down so regularly that I had lost counts of the times that I had to leave it at road sides and took a taxi home.
The police took a few months to finally recovered my Corolla , found in Jalan Brunei area by a vigilant policeman on beat, who found that the number plate and the number of the car on the road tax disc was different. (Just to side track, that is why it is important for policemen to go on beats).
I thanked God for getting the car back and faithfully used it until 1986.
The point I wanted to make is that Toyota, even though very basic then, was reliable and you can count on it to move from one place to another without fail.
Driving a Toyota , you will have the peace of mind that it would not break down in the middle of highways where a stalled car can be such a nuisance and embarrassment, or in some remote areas where you would not be able to get help easily and you would worry about your own safety sitting inside a stalled car..
It is this peace of mind and reliability that become the hallmark of Toyota.
Slowly and steadily, Toyota built up a world wide network and reputation of reliability.
Until of course, recently, when the company started to face some very serious problems. It has to recall 8 million cars world-wide to fix certain problems with the floor mats as well as the accelerator pedals.
Hearing the news of the recall, my first impression was that it has perhaps grown too big and bulky; in trying to make too many cars , its QC sections have failed to catch up and match up with its sales and marketing arms.
It is indeed dangerous to drive a car with an accelerator pedal glued to the floor. Little wonder that upon the announcement of the recall, its sales plunged and its share price dropped steeply.
However, do not write the company off. It has a culture of excellence and even though excellence has somehow been compromised, it still practices transparency and accountability and volunteers to recall all faulty cars.
Malaysia too was growing steadily and impressively in the 60s, 70s and even the 80s. Together with other little tigers of Asia, we were the Toyotas of the World. We were looked upon as models of the Third World.
Like Toyota, we made impressive strides– until official policies skewed the whole economy and changed the whole culture from that of striving for excellence to that of ‘cronyism and patronage’, and the whole system becomes so corrupted that the Corruption perception index has deteriorated yearly until now we are deemed to be one of the most corrupted in Asia.
While Toyota has always practiced accountability, we have been sweeping everything under the carpets, including many instances of mismanagement and scandals.
While Toyota has identified the problems, been transparent about them, and announced to recall all faulty cars and fix them, we know about the problems but try to ignore or at least belittle them. We try to use gloss paints to paint over all our problems and telling the people that everything will turn out to be nice and good. We are not bothered that underneath the glossy surface, the rots have taken roots.
We try to use all sorts of methods, including compromising the integrity of our institutions, to cover up the problems. By doing so, we created more problems trying to cover up the earlier problems. It has become a vicious cycle. The rots sink deeper and deeper. We do not have the determination or the political will to break the cycle.
We have been loitering around the middle rungs of the world economic ladder for a long time, while those who started at the same time as us have gone much further and higher , while those who were behind and below us have also levelled with us and some have gone past us .
I think we need to learn a thing or too from Toyota. Perhaps we should really look East instead of just paying lip service.
We need to learn from the Toyota’s courage and determination to right the wrongs, to face its problems head-on, instead of trying to avoid them.
Toyota knows that for the short term, the company’s fortune and shares would be affected by the massive recall of cars, but in the long run, by publicly admitting and rectifying the faulty areas, the company will get to a even firmer footing to launch itself higher and further than its rivals .
Ironically, by admitting and rectifying the faults, it sends a message that the company practices good after sales service and that the company puts customers’ safety above all else, including the Company’s reputation and fortune.
We should do the same.
Perhaps it is time to convene a National Consultative council, like the one we have in the seventies. Identify the problems in economy, education, race relationship, religious differences and other areas.
We must have the courage to do away with self denial and stand up to face the problems. We must discuss frankly and wholeheartedly what have gone wrong and identify the problems and rectify the wrongs.
Like Toyota, we should be prepared for temporary hardship in order to launch ourselves further and higher. Like Toyota, we should look further ahead. Like Toyota, we should let the people know that we put their interests above all else.
Like Toyota, we should realise that to go back to excellence that we have lost, we need to be transparent and accountable, and overhaul the whole system with input from all quarters to right all the wrongs. We need to face all our problems head-on and solve them.
That is the only way forward, for without pain, there will be no gain.