It always happens.
Just when you have the universe figured out, up pops some nagging evidence that Toyota isn't invincible.
You can discount the New York sex-abuse scandal because it didn't really have anything to do with building or selling cars.
You can forgive the engine-sludge mess because Toyota eventually came clean and tried to make things right with most of the customers it earlier had blamed for not taking proper care of their cars.
You can overlook the Toyota Echo because the company yanked it off the market when it became clear the little car was a mistake.
You can even excuse the roll-up windows in the base Toyota Yaris.
But no way would you expect Toyota to derail its disciplined product program by keeping the current Corolla on the market for six years instead of five.
One theory is that Toyota was stunned by Honda. The 2006 Honda Civic -- selected as the 2006 North American Car of the Year by a panel of 50 independent journalists -- is available in three stylish variants, including a gasoline-electric hybrid. Since the Civic and Corolla compete against each other, Toyota took an extra year and scurried to tweak the Corolla for North America.
The official version is that Toyota is so busy introducing swell products all over the world that it just didn't have enough engineering talent to get the job done properly on schedule.
Either way -- outfoxed by Honda or stretched too thin -- it's not a pretty picture.
But the real shocker is the unfolding product recall scandal in Japan.
Three current and former Toyota officials face criminal charges for failing to file a recall report when they knew about a safety defect for eight years. Toyota says the whole thing was a misunderstanding, and the company will cooperate with investigators.
It still could cause problems. Just ask Mitsubishi.
Six years ago, it was discovered that several Mitsubishi executives in Japan had been covering up safety defects for decades.
Mitsubishi sales in Japan tanked as the public lost confidence in the brand. The shame was so bad that executives wore their Mitsubishi logo lapel pins upside down.
And when the company hit bottom, DaimlerChrysler refused to pump in more capital, ultimately selling its stake in Mitsubishi and pulling out of the global partnership. That forced the Japanese automaker to seek financial help at home.
The Toyota recall case isn't likely to be anywhere near that cataclysmic. But it does reminds us that behind the seemingly invincible Toyota façade, people run things.
And people are, well, human.
Kind of makes you wonder about the universe, doesn't it?
You may e-mail Edward Lapham at [email protected]