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I meccanici non servono più…

Ogni giovedì, nella zona dove abitiamo, distribuiscono un giornale gratuito che parla dei fatti locali. Anche in Italia, ricordo, era diffuso nella città dove abitavo. Qui lo consegnano ancora come si vede in certi film, con il ragazzo che passa la mattina e lo tira sul vialetto di casa. Non più in bici, ma ovviamente motorizzato in macchina, generalmente con un amico che guida. Io che esco di casa alle 7, trovo già il giornale per terra, e lo porto con me sull’autobus mentre mi reco al lavoro. Mi piace leggere l’articolo che ogni settimana l’opinionista quasi novantenne propone ai suoi lettori. Il simpatico Flynn a volte parla della sua famiglia, altre dei tempi in cui lui era giovane, altre ancora dell’attualità. Oggi ti propongo quello della settimana scorsa, non tradotto, per far allenare un po’ il tuo inglese. Sembra lungo, ma t’assicuro che dice cose che ti faranno riflettere! Se hai dubbi su specifiche espressioni o modi di dire, fai pure le tue domande nei commenti 😉

One of the most worrisome things about Toyota’s problem is that nobody seems to be sure just what the real problem was. OK. I realize that they were aware that, among other things, the accelerators stuck and brakes malfunctioned on some models, but that was the end result, not the basic underlying cause. Eventually, after blaming everything from the floor mat to a sticky pedal, the engineers began to suspect “software malfunctions” in electronic systems that even they didn’t understand. In other words, we may have reached the point where the computer has become so sophisticated that, like in a science fiction novel, it is doing its own thinking.

I don’t own a Toyota, but Toyota’s troubles have me feeling a bit nervous about my own car because, I suspect, most of today’s electronic components come from the same source, and the only real difference between the end products is styling and the nameplate. The fact is that when you take your car in for service these days, no matter what make, the servicemen have no idea how it really works. Gone are the days when a “mechanic”, they don’t call them that anymore, could raise the hood, listen to the engine, and figure out why your engine was making a funny noise. Today, they plug the car into a computer, which tells the technician what another computer is doing. That’s also pretty much the case when your refrigerator or washing machine, DVD player or television set acts up.

The days when a repairman could fix things with a screwdriver and some black tape are pretty much a thing of the past. Watching embarrassed Toyota executives trying to explain what happened, and to re-establish the public’s trust in a vehicle that had once been known for its quality and dependability, I was reminded of a somewhat similar incident that I covered as a reporter back in the 1950s. That one, however, was more humorous than serious. I was working at McGraw-Hill on the staff of Business Week, and I had been assigned to cover the introduction of a new model by White Motor Co., one of the nation’s leading manufacturers of over-the-road trucks. At that time, one of the big sales factors in the trucking industry was easy accessibility to engine parts, which minimized both the cost and time involved in regular maintenance and repair work. White’s innovation that year was heralded with the advertising slogan “It Tips Its Cab to Service.”

The idea was that by simply pushing a button on the dashboard, the cab would tilt upward to expose the entire engine. It’s hardly a breathtaking concept by today’s standards, but one that seemed novel back then. To publicize the new model, the company arranged a press event in New York City where business and trade reporters were wined and dined, and presented with the usual press kit crammed with photos and press release material. They were then ushered into an auditorium where a sparkling new model of the latest White tractor stood, surrounded by White executives eager to demonstrate the ‘Tips Its Cab to Service” feature. After some brief remarks, one of the executives pushed the button on the dashboard. Nothing happened. So he pushed it again. Still nothing. “No problem,” one of the red-faced engineers in attendance explained. Apparently the battery was dead. But there was a problem. The battery, you guessed it, was under the cab that was supposed to tip its cab to service. It took the White engineers almost a half-hour to figure out how they could manually raise the cab. When they did, they found that one of the battery cables had apparently jogged loose on the trip to New York.

The assembled press corps naturally had a good laugh, and another drink, while they waited. But I don’t recall that anyone considered the incident serious enough to even mention in their story, after all, it was an understandable human error and easy for White Motors to correct the design flaw. All they had to do was relocate the battery to an accessible spot under the driver’s seat. It won’t be that easy for Toyota. The company has now launched a multi-million dollar advertising campaign in an attempt to re-establish its reputation for quality. But I suspect it will be a tough sell. And I also suspect that their competitors, who are benefiting from Toyota’s plight, have their own fingers crossed hoping that their own computer software doesn’t start acting up one of these days.

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