My reaction to Turning Points: 25 Pivotal Decisions in Toyota's 50 Years in America (Oct. 29) was less virulent than T.R. Tobey's (Letters, Nov. 12), but the issue brought back unsettling memories of visits to Detroit in the 1970s.
As a delegate of the Mohawk-Hudson (Albany, N.Y.) section of the Society of Automotive Engineers, of which I
have been a member since 1950, I made trips to Detroit to attend SAE's conventions.
Each day as the doors to Cobo Hall's exhibit area opened, a seemingly endless flow of visitors poured in. As I visualize that now, at least 50 percent were Asians, and 99 percent of them had cameras.
In the registration area, you could buy copies of SAE technical papers that were being presented at the convention or had been presented at other venues during the year. My guess is that you could peruse 100-150 papers, priced from 75 cents to $2.25 each.
Our Asian guests would buy, typically, one copy of every paper. In the exhibit area, where you could examine and discuss automotive innovations of every description, cameras flashed constantly and handout literature disappeared fast.
Lest anyone misinterpret, I imply no criticism of SAE International in the exchange of information. Without the society's continuing efforts in setting standards and harmonizing regulations, worldwide, automotive design and manufacture could never be the dynamic industry they are today. Nor do I begrudge Toyota or others their success.
But I will make two points:
1. It is easier by far and more profitable to improve on an existing product than to invent or originate it.
2. To make a product that met North American requirements, Toyota and others did not hesitate to draw liberally and persistently on plenty of world-class technology that originated in Detroit. Many who would bad-mouth the domestic makers need to know that.
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