Toyota's managers are keeping an ear to the ground right now, listening for any indicator that the company's troubles might be more serious than a few public whippings and class-action lawsuits.
Here's one: They have become slang.
In The New York Times of Sunday, Feb. 21 -- read by 1,450,000 people, give or take -- there's a completely unrelated Page 1 story on a new book about the dropping of the first atom bomb in 1945. According to the Times, the book is based on erroneous sources. The author has pledged to rewrite the book.
The article quotes a World War II historian fuming about the goof: "This book is a Toyota," he says. "The publisher should recall it, issue an apology and fix the parts that endanger the historical record."
Woe to become a generic expression of products that should be recalled.
Did anyone ever utter the words, "This wristwatch is just a Chrysler"? Or, "That toaster oven we bought last year turned out to be a total Suzuki"?
The Ford Edsel became slang for anything that was a commercial flop. As in, "My steam-powered bicycle was an Edsel."
Jeep once served as a generic term for utilitarian off-road vehicles -- but other than trademark concerns, what automaker would have a problem with that insinuation?
But to have your name represent a train wreck?
How strange if the very auto brand the world used for 20 years as an adjective for obsessive quality -- "Toyota quality" -- should now be in danger of generically connoting product screw-up.