It is fashionable in Washington these days to praise “green” Toyota and bash Detroit automakers. As evidence of how liberals’ favorite color has changed from blue-collar to green, witness the extraordinary exchange on the House floor last week in which Rep. Greg Walden (Ore.) recommended that Rep. Ed Markey (D., Mass.) buy – not American – but a different Toyota!
“You really should upgrade to a more-efficient vehicle,” Walden (who owns a hybrid Toyota Prius) told Markey (who owns a hybrid Toyota Camry).
But Toyota is also a member of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers that is heavily lobbying against these same congressmen’s diktat that vehicles average 35 mpg by 2020. The reason is that Toyota listens to the same American customers as Detroit – and those customers are telling Toyota that fuel economy is not the priority in their auto purchases.
Toyota’s first refresh of its popular Scion xB (the car that looks like a shoebox) is a case in point.
Introduced in 2004 to rave reviews, the first xB weighed 2469 pounds and was powered by a 108-hp, 1.5-liter engine that achieved 33 mpg. In redesigning the new 2008 model, Toyota listened to its customers who wanted more comfort, safety, and performance for the same low – $18,000 – price.
The result is a 3020 pound car with 50 percent more power – 158 hp – from a 2.4-liter engine getting 25 percent less fuel economy – 25 mpg.
Buyers are ecstatic. “I love (it). I traded for this car because I needed more room for hauling things,” writes one satisfied customer on Edmunds.com.
“I thought the first one was interesting but there was no way I was going to drive a go-cart on the freeway. The 2008 is a huge improvement,” says another.
That’s not the direction that Congress wants Toyota to go – but Toyota didn’t get to be a great company by listening to politicians. It listens to the marketplace.