Time to buy a Toyota

By Philip Stephens

I’ll  leave it to the experts to compute just how much the furore over dodgy accelerator pedals and now brakes will cost the world’s biggest carmaker. We can expect endless tedious hand-wringing among so-called reputation-management consultants and PR professionals about whether the company was too slow in owning up. The cash registers are already ringing as US lawyers anticipate years of lucrative litigation.

Me? I think there has never been a better time to get down to the Toyota showroom. The company makes great cars. And after the tidal wade of bad publicity of the past couple of weeks, its dealers are going to be desperate to sell them. Prices are about to fall.

What about the risk?  Well, even if you climb into the driving seat of a model that hasn’t yet had the pedal fixed, the chance of it sticking dangerously the next time you pop out to the supermarket is one in 1.2874bn. The likelihood that you will suffer death or serious injury as a consequence of such an incident is one in 1.78bn.

The precision of those computations, I will admit, relies on 30-year-old memory of statistical probabilities and my more recent efforts to master my 16-year old son’s rather complicated scientific calculator. Alright, I made them up*.

But you get the picture. Work out how many journeys are made each day in Toyotas, divide that the few dozen at most known accident cases and it seems pretty obvious that crossing an entirely empty road on a pedestrian crossing is a much more dangerous endeavour.

The trouble with risks is that we pay attention to the new while discounting the familiar, no matter how ridiculously small are the former. It does not help, of course, when a 24-hour media does all it can to fan the flames of panic.

So back to buying that Toyota. Prices are set to fall. There will be bargains galore at your local dealer. Don’t wait too long, though. When people have stopped panicking they will remember why the company is the world’s biggest carmaker.

One final thought: put the money you save into Toyota shares: the price has fallen by a quarter since the company went public with its recall plans on January 22. And Toyota does make great cars.

* Editor’s note: the real chance appears to be an absolute maximum of one problem every 769m miles. (Based on 26 reported accelerator pedal problems in Europe, where 2m cars are affected, and the conservative assumptions that they average 10,000 miles a year and all the problems happened in one year.)

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Christopher Cook is an FT editorial writer. Before joining the FT in 2008 as a Peter Martin Fellow, he worked for three years for the Conservative party.

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