You ask: "Can anything stop Toyota?" The answer is yes: They stop themselves when they purposely lose return customers (Cover Story, Nov. 17). I declare myself the first. I recently bought a new 2004 Toyota Corolla. I have contacted the dealer four times requesting a follow-up service appointment promised during the purchase. Every time I get: "Somebody will call you tomorrow." Every time, no return call.
Toyota can update all the business logistics, model styles, cost measures, and manufacturing-process redesigns they want, but when they forget or ignore the customer, they halt their future growth. That Corolla was my second and last Toyota. Yes, something can stop them.
The article on Toyota was missing one thing: why people like to buy its cars. It's Toyota's reputation for reliability -- plus the 6-year/60,000 drive-train warranty. I assumed U.S. auto manufacturers would have figured this out by now. I purchased a Ford Mustang new in 2000. Not a month after the warranty expired (at 41,000 miles), a valve spring broke. Repairs cost more than $2,200, plus rental-car costs, and it took eight days to fix. Ford Motor Co.'s response was: It's out of warranty, go complain to the selling dealer. The dealer didn't build my car. When I buy a Toyota or another vehicle that the manufacturer stands behind, it will be too bad for Ford.
Lindan A. Moya
As the owner of both General Motors Corp. and Toyota vehicles, I can tell you that once you have owned a Toyota, you are likely to buy one again. When I call Toyota, they respond. When I call GM, they refuse to speak to me unless I write a letter and get a case number.
I recently purchased my third Toyota, and it is a beautifully running and performing car. But I'm afraid it will be my last unless the people who service Toyotas become more knowledgeable about their product. Three times in the past four years I have found that if there is a serious problem -- a very rare occurrence, indeed -- the mechanics at Toyota dealers, who are supposed to be factory-trained, are at a loss.
Toyota should pay as much attention to the maintenance of their product as it does to the quality of construction.
Douglas R. Morrison
Your issue contained two separate but related topics that, when juxtaposed, unwittingly expose the current malaise dogging innovation: the risk of failure.
This is vividly pointed out in the cover story on Toyota when the writers note that "Toyota doesn't always get it right." Three cheers for Toyota! We need more enterprises that are willing to take the risk that they won't get it right. Learning isn't a straight path: Mistakes and failures are necessary if true learning (innovation) is to take place. This point should be kept in mind when reading the article and "The innovation imperative" (Editorials, Nov. 17).
Philip E. Howe
Lehigh Valley, Pa. Samuel J. Palmisano ("How the U.S. can keep its innovation edge," Economic Viewpoint, Nov. 17) mentions his work to develop a National Innovation Initiative, with his co-chair G. Wayne Clough. It is important that this work reflect on the Domestic Policy Review of Innovation sponsored by the Carter White House and involving many industry leaders.
The first public presentation of selected recommendations from this White Paper was made to members of the Product Development & Management Assn. at its Third International Conference in October, 1979, in Washington, D.C., a meeting I chaired. Among the recommendations were suggestions for improvements to the patent process, rapid translation of scientific information originally published in other languages, and other points. Many wished that the recommendations had been more ambitious, but there are lessons to be learned from the scope and development of this earlier investigation.
The PDMA community recognizes that "there are times, places, and conditions under which innovation flourishes" and that much of this can be managed through sharing insights. But it is important to build on the knowledge that is already obtained.
Thomas P. Hustad
Kelley School of Business
Bloomington, Ind. Re "Getting rational about rationing" (SciTech, Nov. 17): The problem with rationing arises from equating rationing with triage -- maximizing the number of lives saved with the resources that are available. The goal of rationing should be to provide equality: You don't provide a therapy to anyone unless you can afford, in the long term, to provide the same therapy to everyone who needs it. If a therapy cannot be provided to everyone who needs it, then it should not be made available to anyone, no matter how much money they have. This avoids the ethical dilemma of deciding who does and does not qualify for a particular expensive therapy and avoids setting a price on any individual human life.
Fort Wayne, Ind. Those who focus on the content of e-mail spam and telemarketing calls miss the point ("Will the right to pester hold up?" Legal Affairs, Nov. 10): For advertising, the real issue is cost-shifting. Junk faxes are illegal because a significant cost is shifted to the recipient without recourse. Junk phone calls and junk e-mail also shift significant cost from advertiser to recipient -- the opportunity cost of the tied-up phone line and the time cost to answer the call.
BusinessWeek Online writer Jane Black quotes Brightmail as saying that junk e-mail accounted for 54% of all e-mail in September, 2003 ("Needed: A beefier can-SPAM bill," BusinessWeek Online, Oct. 30). This means that the cost of operating the e-mail infrastructure is half again as much as it would be if there were no spam. The overwhelming majority of that cost is borne by recipients, not senders, of junk e-mail. The real issue is not freedom of speech but who shall pay for advertisers' speech. It should always be the advertiser, not the recipient.
Robert L. Brown
Atlanta "Say goodbye to refi madness" (News: Analysis & Commentary, Nov. 10) includes the mention of a possible drag on employment of 100,000 or 150,000 jobs per month brought on by an expected $300 billion year-over-year drop in mortgage refinancing and other forms of housing-equity withdrawal. Studies I have carried out on the employment impact due to changes in demand indicate that the loss will be even higher.
I first accepted that the expected drop of $300 billion would lead to a $150 billion decline in consumption. Using multipliers from papers I presented at the 12th and 13th Federal Forecaster Conferences, I determined that 12% of consumption goes for imports and has no impact on domestic employment. The spending of the remainder leads to receipt of wages that will be spent and adds a further 30% to consumption. Finally, I determined that every $1 million of consumption generates 13.6 jobs. In summary, the drop of $300 billion in refinancing causes a $171.6 billion decline in consumption, which translates into a loss of 2.3 million jobs or [closer to] 200,000 per month.
Columbia, Md. I read with great dismay Stephen Baker's "It's easy to tell -- and show -- on today's cell phones" (Tech Buying Guide, Nov. 10), which leads with the statement: "Heard of a Labradoodle?" As one of these "fanatic" Doodle owners (mine was bred in Australia), I wish to point out that it's pinheads like Baker who create runs on the current "it" dogs. Why, already the popularity of this special breed has found its way to Hollywood! Now amateur breeders in the U.S. will dilute the breed of these perfect creatures with unworthy, merely mortal, wannabe dogs with inbred faults. I am, therefore, forced to urge Mr. Baker to admit that he made up this breed, that they don't really exist, or place a curse on his and the editorial staff's baseball team (hence the "Doodle" curse). Have a nice day.
Jeffrey L. Lenow
Editor's note: They do exist, and we regret receiving the Doodle curse. Our softball team was 12-6 this year.