Commentary

Konnichiwa, fellow Toyota executives, from this moment forward we aren’t worried about quality. All we care about is expanding and being No.1 in the world. If the cars fall apart, so be it. Our new motto is Caveat emptor-san. Banzai!”

To see the recent criticism of Toyota, it sounds like some journalists assume a Toyota executive actually gave an order a few years ago to forget quality. I don’t believe it.

Yes, Toyota expanded. Consumers were gobbling up its cars and trucks, and it constructed plants in dozens of countries to build them. It became the world’s No.1 auto maker.

But if gunning to be No.1 is so bad, let’s start dumping on Volkswagen right now, because it is openly shooting for the top slot.

VW is even building a plant in the U.S. in the middle of a terrible automotive recession. Let’s tell them to stop, for their own sake. Fire those Tennessee construction workers and stop taking resumes for assembly plant jobs. It’s for the best.

And don’t forget the Koreans. Kia just opened a new plant in Georgia. Shut it down and lay ’em off. We don’t want Kia growing too fast.

And let’s dump on the New York Yankees while we are at it. They went around buying the best players they could find to become No.1. Tell them to trade A-Rod before they win the next World Series and are ruined.

That’s pretty silly. Stuff happens in the auto business. No matter how hard any auto maker tries, it sometimes is impossible to catch a defect among millions of vehicles produced every year, each one comprised of 13,000 parts.

Toyota has its accelerator pedal problem. General Motors has a power-steering glitch on its Chevy Cobalts. Honda has an issue with some airbags.

My complaint is with the idea there’s something wrong with growing the business, with going for first place. This is America and that’s how we play the game.

Of course, there are risks with hiring lots of new workers and giving business to new companies as you expand. What, we shouldn’t hire new workers or new suppliers?

Imagine if a company didn’t try to grow. Its potential customers would go to competitors, and the company that didn’t grow would be hurt. Its executives would be crucified.

None of this is to excuse Toyota for its mistakes. Toyota had problems. It didn’t catch them, or pretended they didn’t exist. In this business, make a mistake and you pay.

There will be permanent damage. Toyota isn’t going out of business, but it will lose some customers permanently. The auto maker will be forced to spend billions of extra dollars in marketing, advertising and incentives to hold onto market share. And the lawsuits will go on forever. But that’s business in the U.S.

Those who like conspiracy theories say the recalls and production shutdowns were prompted by the U.S. government. They think because U.S. taxpayers really own GM and Chrysler, it is in the government’s interest to cripple Toyota.

I’m not a conspiracy man. Toyota made some mistakes and now it’s paying the price.

Jerry Flint is a columnist for, and former senior editor of, Forbes magazine.