Who wants to be like Toyota, anyway?

Automotive News | June 25, 2012 - 3:41 pm EST

DETROIT -- "No one wants to be the next Toyota."

Three years ago, that would have been a ridiculous thing to say. Same goes for "I'm thinking of opening a Pontiac dealership" or "I just paid sticker price for a PT Cruiser."

But in the Bizarro World of today, no one wants to end up like Toyota.

Wouldn't it be awful to have some of the most loyal customers in the industry and top-selling cars in the world?

Even stranger is that the above quote, from Edmunds.com analyst Jessica Caldwell in a Bloomberg News story last week, was referring to General Motors. GM acted quickly to recall nearly 500,000 units of its top-selling car in 2011, the Chevrolet Cruze, because it doesn't want anyone to think it pulled a Toyota.

For decades, GM would have given anything for Americans to mention it in the same breath as Toyota.

Today, if you're "the next Toyota," you have a huge problem on your hands. Since 2009, Toyota has recalled more than 15 million vehicles, paid the U.S. government almost $50 million in fines and spent countless hours trying to reassure nervous owners and car shoppers.

Suddenly, no one wants to be like Toyota anymore. It might not be a bad idea for Toyota to start calling itself "the previous Hyundai."

Caldwell told Bloomberg it was important for GM to proactively address a potential fire risk in the Cruze because it is such a critical nameplate.

Her full comment was this: "No one wants to be the next Toyota and ignore any problems in the cars. A lot of these people are new GM customers, so it's important to do what you can to keep them happy and not be negligent of anything that can go wrong."

A big recall of the Cruze is a bit of a black eye for GM, which just days earlier was celebrating its improved performance in J.D. Power's latest Initial Quality Study. It marks the second time that GM had to recall every Cruze it had made, up to the point that the defect was found.

Last week's recall is connected to 30 reports of fires, but none involving crashes, injuries or deaths. There's also a second, simultaneous recall because some Cruzes could be missing some welds on the fuel tank.

About a year ago, GM had to recall all Cruzes to address some steering and transmission problems. That came on the tails of a small recall aimed at making sure the steering wheel wouldn't just, you know, fall off.

On top of all that, I've discovered that "Cruze" is not even a real word. Fortunately, it looks like GM hired a better proofreader before it rolled out something called the Chevrolet Zpark.

Caldwell and other analysts don't expect the recalls to have any lasting effect on opinions of GM or the Cruze overall, even among English majors.

GM certainly hopes that's the case. After all it has been through in the past three years, the last thing it needs is for people to think it's anything like Toyota.

Nick Bunkley is an enterprise reporter for Automotive News.Nick Bunkley is an enterprise reporter for Automotive News.

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