Is Toyota the Microsoft of Car Companies

Software Malfunction. This photo has nothing to do with the story.

By Noah Graff

My boss, one of my favorite free thinkers in the world, asked me the other day whether Toyota is today’s Microsoft of the car industry.

It felt like a ludicrous question. I hate Microsoft products (I’m a Mac guy all the way), and I’ve always enjoyed driving Toyotas. Well, at least my parents’ Avalons and my 1997 Lexus ES 300, which has 175,000 miles on it.

So what was the thinking behind this analogy? Toyota like Microsoft has become the largest seller of products in its sector in the U.S. market. It appears as though Toyotas have gained such a reputation as the benchmark for quality and reliability that the company has grown complacent in keeping up its highly touted standards. As the world has seen in the last week, the cars have their share of bugs, which has always been a trademark of the Windows operating system. Because Windows’ has minimal competition in software it has been able to get away with mediocrity year after year.

But is comparing cars to computers really “Apples to Apples”?

When I googled “Toyota and Microsoft” I found a brilliant blog written back in 2006, called none other than “Toyota Vs. Microsoft.” The following is an excerpt:

“At a recent computer expo (COMDEX), Bill Gates reportedly compared the computer industry with the auto industry and stated, “If Toyota had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25 cars that go 100 miles to the gallon.”

In response to Bill’s comments, TOYOTA issued a press release (perhaps fictional) stating:

If Toyota had developed technology like Microsoft, we would all be driving cars with the following characteristics:

1. For no reason whatsoever, your car would crash twice a day.
2. Every time they repainted the lines in the road, you would have to buy a new car.
3. Occasionally your car would die on the freeway for no reason. You would have to pull to the side of the road, close all of the windows, shut off the car, restart it, and reopen the windows before you could continue. For some reason you would simply accept this.”

There are several more on the blog but you get the picture.

It was a brilliant comeback for Toyota back in 2006. But these days Toyota isn’t doing much snickering.

Question: Is Toyota the Microsoft of cars, and are Ford and GM now Apples?

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2 thoughts on “Is Toyota the Microsoft of Car Companies

  1. AvatarBuelldog

    I think a Toyota vs. Microsoft comparison is unfair for Toyota.
    Toyota has historically delivered well-designed & manufactured cars, with excellent long-term reliability. They have only recently come into the spotlight with some major quality problems. They will focus on these issues, and fix them. I expect it is nothing more than a glitch for Toyota.
    On the other hand, Microsoft is well known and despised by many for their offenses. Here are two of my favorites:
     -Bringing products to market before they are finished. This is not a recently earned reputation for Microsoft; they have frequently released products that required a bunch of patches, updates, and re-installs to fix problems that should have been fixed before the release of the product.
     -Changing how things are done in the software. Millions of people all know exactly how to perform a given software function. That is until they upgrade and buy the new version. At this point they all need to try to figure how to do it all over again. This happens every time Microsoft comes out with a new version.
    If asked if I want to upgrade to the latest Microsoft product? Not unless I have to… I wouldn’t be the least bit concerned if I replaced my 97 Cutlass Supreme with new Toyota though.

     
  2. AvatarBryan Willman

    The comparison is off because the two industries are so different. At one point microsoft made more profit than the rest of the industry combined – in fact, it may have made more profit than the rest of the industry grossed. Toyota is a leader among titans. Microsoft was (is) an empire crushingly larger than any other player.

    What’s more, Toyota produces cars. It is a car company. Microsoft is not a computer company. Neither is Intel. But the two of them together are (with occasional flings with AMD thrown in for good measure.) You cannot understand the personal computer industry by studying Microsoft alone, you must also understand Intel. I don’t see a “different half” for Toyota.

    Toyota’s main competitors (Ford, GM, VolkswagenAudi, etc.) have market shares vaguely similar to Toyotas. Microsoft’s most visible (but not quite same category) competitor Apple controls only a few percent of the market (order 11%) versus the share of windows somewhere north of 80%.

    As for Buelldog’s complain that Microsoft sometimes changes things just to change things – yup, it always pissed me off. (I worked there for 2 decades…)

     

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