Final Inspection

Breaking a Taboo


The Democratic Party changed the face of political ads with its “Daisy” TV spots in the ʼ64 presidential race between Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater, giving birth to the modern-day negative campaign advertising.

I wonder if years from now we’ll look back on the Toyota recall scandal as the beginning of a new, and maybe a bit nastier, wave in automotive marketing.

With Toyota’s quality, reliability and safety all being called into question over sticking throttles and bulky floor mats, General Motors and Ford are wasting no time in mounting a full-frontal assault against the Japanese auto maker.

And that represents a departure for the automotive industry, which historically has been more velvet glove than brass knuckles in its approach to marketing.

GM and Ford already have launched special incentive offers aimed at owners of Toyota vehicles, hoping enough will be alarmed about potential safety or just plain turned off by all the quality talk to switch brands.

It’s a head-on, highly visible attack of a vulnerable Toyota rarely if ever seen in the auto industry. No one tried such a blatant approach to steal market share from GM and Chrysler when they were moving through bankruptcy last year, and I can’t recall anything similar when Ford was suffering through its painful and costly Firestone tire recall.

Other Japanese auto makers have said they won’t follow the GM-Ford lead, and neither has Chrysler so far.

It’s hard to blame GM and Ford for striking so boldly, though. They have seen their U.S. market share continually shrink over the years at the hands of a seemingly invincible Toyota, and this may be their best – if not only – chance to regain some of it back and finally convince the car-buying public their vehicles now are on a quality par with the rest of the industry.

But it also could usher in a new era of marketing where it is no longer taboo to hit the other guy when he’s down.

Stepping on the wounded snake’s neck may be GM and Ford’s best chance to reclaim some lost ground for the home team.

But be careful; it’s hurting, not dead. And someone could end up getting bit.

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What's Final Inspection?

WardsAuto editors share insights and observations on the global auto industry.


David E. Zoia

As Editorial Director, I oversee much of what goes into, enjoying a ringside seat that lets me observe up close just about every facet of the industry worldwide. I have covered the...

James M. Amend

James Amend is an associate editor at, covering day-to-day business and product news at General Motors. He also leads coverage of regulatory and environmental issues, as well as the...
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