If you were a member of the Tiger Woods Fan Club, did you drop your membership? If you had a "John Edwards for President 2008" bumper sticker, did you scrape it off after his scandal? Well, what do you do if you're an editorial cartoonist who drives (and has loved) Toyota cars?
After driving Ford vehicles in my younger days, I bought my first new Toyota (a Camry) in 1988 and stuck with the brand.
When the second-generation Prius came out, I got on a waiting list, and went to considerable efforts and distances within California to obtain one, becoming one of the first in my city to get one. it became Motor Trend's "Car of the Year" and there were waiting lists nationally for the cars, with many dealers charging premiums of thousands of dollars above sticker price for those eager to buy the cars (I paid list price only, having learned via Yahoo user groups to go through the Internet sales departments of dealerships rather than walk onto a car lot).
I recently hit 100,000 miles on my Prius, and it's been a wonderful car and very problem-free. I don't often hit the 50 miles-per-gallon per tank I frequently did when I drove long distances each day to work, but I tend to be in the 47 mpg range. I am irritated if I fill up and the previous tank got only 45 mpg.
It's a well designed, well thought-out car. It was Ã¼ber-cool to drive when I first got it, and I enjoyed answering the questions of passers-by who stared at the then-new hybrid model in amazement ("No, you don't have to plug it in. No, the engine didn't stall out, it just seems to shut off at red lights but picks up right away when I touch the gas pedal. Yes, it can run entirely in electric mode, at certain speeds for short periods. Yes, I do have to put gas in it, just not quite as often.").
So now, like other Toyota owners, I'm finding myself alarmed at each new accusation against the company and its lethargic response to a growing mountain of safety complaints. I've had an excellent experience with my car. And yet... there's now a nagging little bit of unease. Could this car suddenly accelerate out of control?
I don't really believe sticky gas pedals are at fault. And I never bought into the idea that floor mats were an issue except perhaps in very isolated instances.
But what do I do as an editorial cartoonist? My fellow cartoonists have had a field day blasting Toyota on a weekly basis. I've had mixed feelings, but can't ignore a major news story either.
I drew the first cartoon shown here in early February, wanting to express my suspicion that the electronics of the cars might be at fault "” a view held by many, and the subject of Congressional probes, but vehemently denied by Toyota. The electronic systems are very difficult to diagnose, very expensive to fix, and Toyota claims it can't replicate the acceleration problem in its lab tests and is certain it's not the cause of the problem.
The second cartoon, a parody of Edvard Munch's famous painting "The Scream," was drawn weeks later.
Will I keep drawing cartoons critical of Toyota? Certainly, as news events dictate. Do I feel a bit odd slamming the company even though my personal experience has been good? Maybe, but the company has played it too coy and seems to dig itself into an ever-deeper hole, and that's fair game for cartooning.
Would I buy a Toyota car again? Well, like other consumers, I'll need to feel reassured that these problems really do get corrected and I won't have to worry about my car being safe. Had I won the lottery six months ago I probably would've bought a third-generation 2010 Prius.
But at the moment I have more confidence in the cartoons than in the Toyota leadership.
Be sure to see the huge archive of my work (organized by topic area) on my web site at http://www.greenberg-art.com