Tag Archives: Crime

“Toyota accused of deceiving customers” – Sunday Times, 6th February, 2012

11 Feb

The Sunday Times believes it has discovered evidence that Toyota were telling their dealer network not to fix problems in customer’s new cars if the customer hadn’t spotted the problem or the problem itself did not pose a threat to safety.

The Sunday Times has also discovered evidence that the Pope is a Catholic and also that there is a drastic shortage of modern rest-room facilities for bears who live in woodland areas.

The Sunday Times article made me feel a sense of despair inside. Was this “investigative journalism” at its best? No. Were Toyota being singled out for doing only what every other mass production car manufacturer does? Yes. Was this news? Hardly. Is there a three ton elephant standing in the corner of the living room that The Sunday Times cannot see? Maybe.

I would like you all all to meet Kaylee. Kaylee is an intelligent and sweet eight year old girl. She is normal and healthy and today I am taking her to a Dealer Franchise.

Kaylee:  Is this where cars are made?

Me:  No, Kaylee. This is where cars are sold to people and where cars are fixed if they go wrong.

Kaylee: So, the car maker owns this big building and employs all the people?

Me: No, the car maker would rather nail himself to the mast of a sinking ship than do that. He just has his name over the door, like McDogburgers or Putrid Pizza.

Kaylee: So, this is a franchise operation, an administrative and business ‘firewall’ between the manufacturer and the end-customer, acting as a quasi-independent provider of car financing loans, spare parts, service facilities and a drop-in centre for owners with warranty issues?

Me: Yes. Now, get me a coffee from that machine next to the lady with the white blouse.

Kaylee: I got you a FairTrade double latte with extra sugar but you need to put your own vodka into it.

Me: Thank you.

Kaylee: So, the people here make their money buy selling spare parts to the people who bring their cars in for service and also charging them for the time spent to fit the parts, sundry items used in that process and selling them service packages?

Me; Yes. Kaylee, this is tomato soup.

Kaylee. Deal with it. So, surely the franchise dealer is motivated to increase profit by maximising the amount of work that can be carried out on each car that comes in?

Me: Yes.

Kaylee: Ideally, that would necessitate separating the honest mechanic from the ‘front-of-house’ sales team, who are then heavily incentivised to use their highly developed interpersonal skills to maximise the commitment of the car owner, encouraging them to pay for necessary and/or advisable and/or arbitrary work. For this system to be perfected, surely the franchise should nominate a Service Manager and that individual will then instruct the mechanic on what work needs to be carried out on behalf of the customer?

Me: Yes. Kaylee, did you put sugar in this tomato soup?

Kaylee. Sweetener. You need to lose weight. So, if I was the owner of a dealer franchise and I wanted to make extra bucks, I would get the most persuasive, devious and manipulative person I knew and make them my Service Manager. I’d cut a secret cash incentive scheme with them, based on the increased net sales of services added to existing customer’s data. I’d tell the mechanics to carry out work without questioning the Service Manager’s authority and I’d make sure that the customer never gets to talk to anyone but me or the Service Manager.

Me: I bet you would.

Kaylee: However, At the same time, I can ingratiate myself towards the customer I am currently milking to death by suggesting that we invoice the manufacturer for any defects that  might reasonably be covered by the terms of the warranty? Either way, as a franchise, we get payed by one party or the other, don’t we?

Me: That’s right Kaylee. That is why manufacturers fight hard to control warranty claims made by customers who find faults in their cars. The manufacturer is always paranoid that the Service manager is playing both ends for his own benefit.

Kaylee: But surely, there is always evidence of a clear failure or defect in a part and that would have to be presented either to the manufacturer or the customer as evidence of work needing to be done? I mean, people aren’t stupid and there are such things as laws to protect against blatant fraud?

Me: The manufacturer always asks to see the part and can usually tell if it is a legitimate claim. But 99.9% of the time, you can hold up any broken part, one you’ve taken from another car, and the customer will assume that you are not lying. The deception is almost impossible to prove and the customer rarely if ever, disputes the integrity of the Service Manager.

Kaylee: But surely, the scam must go belly-up every now and then? I mean, one day, the Service Manager goes too far with the wrong person?

Me: Yes, but then he has covered all his bases. He has dismantled the customer’s car, has the parts stacked neatly all over the workshop, he holds his ground and he knows that the customer desperately needs his car back. If the customer accuses him of lying, he folds his arms and drags the franchise owner back from the golf course. The customer soon gets the message. Beyond ‘rigging’ a car with hidden cameras, many scams are impossible to prove.

Kaylee: But surely, if the Service Manager is pulling outrageous scams, the service data returning to the manufacturer will show disproportionate levels of component failure on cars serviced at that franchise?

Me: Yes, if the Service Manager is stupid but normally they are clever. They ‘cluster’ faults, attributing them to certain customers or cars where either the customer is an ass or the car is actually a ‘turkey’ which the manufacturer already knows about. That way, it makes it  almost impossible for the manufacturer to prove anything either, regardless of their suspicions. If the manufacturer loves the sales figures for the franchise overall, the manufacturer would be shooting himself in the foot by getting involved.

Kaylee: So, every time we put our car in to be serviced, we stand to get ripped off?

Me: Not every time, not every dealer. Focus on how the scam works and you will see that it pays to pick and choose your dealer and not come across like an ass with plenty of money and no knowledge of modern cars.

Kaylee: But hundreds of thousands of customers must be being ripped off for millions each year by unscrupulous Service Managers and dealerships. Why don’t big investigative newsgroups ever cover this outrageous scam?

Me: Good question.

Kaylee: How old do I have to be before I can buy myself a dealer franchise and learn to play golf?



© 2012 Loop Withers Roadwax.com

A good car to have a crash in…? Part 1

9 Feb

Fancy a good car crash? Oh, come on, don’t be a chicken. Let’s do it. Its fun…!

About twenty years ago the German Police were  mystified by a sudden spate of random accidents involving stolen cars. Something was not quite right. Something did not make sense. At the crash scene, the lack of tyre marks that would indicate that the driver was braking, the direct angle of impact, small details like these were not as they expected.

It is beyond the comprehension of most of us to intentionally crash the car we are driving into a stationary object. Yes, a few crooks do intentionally crash cars to claim thousands of pounds in insured injury pay-outs, but they are the exception; they are doing it for business reasons.

What the German Police discovered was that a handful of streetwise teenagers were crashing cars for fun. The incredible adrenaline buzz of doing it, the excitement of the unknown…the whiff of gunpowder as the airbags go off and the near –  certainty of running away, high on life, to laugh about it with their mates.

One of the great things about youth is that it draws together the established world it sees and makes of it a new world. These kids had seen the promotional videos for Volvos, Audis and Mercedes. How the calm voice of the manufacturers explained in patient words that these “airbags” would deploy and save the occupants from serious injury in the event of a crash at even 50 kilometers per hour.

Game on…!  One can picture the face of  the staid and methodical German Police detective at the moment where he finally thought the previously unthinkable, imagined the hitherto unimaginable. He was first on the scene at a completely new category of crime: “crashing cars intentionally for the joy of cheating death and serious injury”.

Years later, when the idea had become boring and uncool, even Jeremy Clarkson did it on Top Gear.

In Europe and America, car manufacturers now use the idea of passenger safety as a sales tool, a means of selling their cars to us. It was not always so.

When Ralph Nader, an American pioneer of consumer rights, published a book in 1965 criticising American car manufacturers for designing cars that killed their occupants because they were poorly  designed, he singled out the General Motors Chevrolet Corvair. General Motors responded by singling out Ralph Nader as an untrustworthy commie beatnik with a dangerously un-American agenda.

Nader was right. This new concept of ‘passenger safety’ became forever more  of great importance to western car-buyers.  Nader and his cause flourished while General Motors were shamed into a mumbling apology and ‘getting with the program’. Swedish manufacturer Volvo invented  the three-way diagonal seat belt and, in an act of high-principled generosity, offered it patent-free to all the world’s motor manufacturers, their competition. It immediately became the now-familiar seat belt that we all still wear, albeit in improved form.

Today, when we westerners buy a car, we ask ourselves: “How safe is it?”  This is an interesting point because forty years ago in 1970, we still asked “How sexy will I look and how fast does it go?”  The manufacturers were happy to answer. They were still working hard on developing safety equipment. It was a long, uphill research programme so, in the mean time, hey – look…! Sports Wheels…! Extra Stripes…! Metallic Paint…! Cheap, shiny things. Go on, have a couple of front fog lights, as well. They are totally useless in fog but your neighbour will be jealous and that is what counts, isn’t it?

Even though we knew that safety was important in 1970, we still wanted our cars to be symbols of sexual prowess and have a little of the ‘weapon’ about them. Yes, women too – it was not exclusively men who lusted after power and sex-appeal back then and don’t let anyone persuade you otherwise…

But by 1990, twenty years ago, passenger safety had become the most-used sales tool for western manufacturers and the most talked-over issue when choosing a new car. Safe sex. We westerners still wanted to look like gods in chariots of steel on the outside but please, can we have lots of soft,  curvy plastic bits on the inside instead of all those pointy steel knobs and handles?

Western manufacturers saw their golden opportunity. They stopped talking about how fast their cars went. They talked instead about how safe, economical and trustworthy they were. Cars stopped being sold to us as powerful rocket ships and  began being sold to us as powerful accountants, trustworthy and silent bodyguards, loyal friends.

Now, in 2012, those German teenagers have settled down, had kids and they probably have an Audi A3 parked outside.  Airbag safety and passenger-cell technology is far more advanced. Every day on western roads, men and women walk away from crashes that would have killed them without doubt in 1972, just one generation earlier.

Now, take a look at India in 2012. The Indian economy is racing forward, a well-heeled consumer class is emerging and is hungry for new products. Once again, the car is being pushed like a drug as the ‘must have’ consumer item for the modern Indian family. Just as we westerners were encouraged to take to the roads, spend our money on fuel, tax, insurance, servicing, repairs, depreciation and, oh yes, a shiny new car, so the easterners are being willingly courted by the huge car manufacturers. Now, it is their turn to be dazzled by choice.

But something is not right.

While the wealthy elite of India are rushing to buy luxury cars so fast that America’s top imported brands are increasing sales at an astonishing 40% per year, the average aspirational Indian is being sold something quite different: hastily re-skinned versions of old car designs that will mostly not even pass current European and US safety tests. At best, they will scrape through with disgracefully low scores. Knee joints, rib cages, upper jaws will be broken far more frequently.

Maruti Suzuki manufactures India’s best-selling range of vehicles. Out of their 13 most popular family cars, the company’s own publicity doesn’t even mention the word “safety” on ten of them. It does, however, mention “…bold, sporty styling…”  “…the new force of excitement…” “…thrilling drive…” “…you will smile when you press the accelerator to pass another vehicle…”  All very similar terms to those used by western manufacturers like Ford or GM back in 1970.

So, let’s just pause for a moment and get this straight:

India in 2012 is going to greet the truly massive expansion of private car ownership by building cars that will not protect their occupants any better than westerner’s cars did in 1970?

Which lessons didn’t get learned?

Where is India’s “Ralph Nader”?

© 2012 Loop Withers Roadwax.com

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