The expensive consequences of complex systems
Today, you can't hardly buy anything that hasn't been outsourced, insourced, cross-sourced, bi-sourced and re-sourced. Anything in your possession probably has bits and pieces that have changed hands 20 times by the time it landed in your pocket. In general, the net effect of this is that prices have declined and variety has increased.
But sometimes it backfires.
Toyota, for instance, has started manufacturing vehicles to a specification that no parts supplier wants to pick up. For a company that was recently lauded as the top car company in America, this is a decidedly consumer-unfriendly move, particularly on some of their higher-end vehicles. When you outsource parts, and suddenly there are no parts available, the system tends to break down.
Earlier this year, I bought a 2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid. It came with a set of expectedly-crappy Toyo Open Country A20 tires, but the real surprise was their size. They're a 245/55 R19, which is a size that fits no other vehicle on the market in North America. That size is apparently common in Japanese vehicles, but no manufacturer aside from Toyo and (formerly) Bridgestone would pick up the bid to manufacture them for North America. The volume is just too low to make it worth their while.
As a result, there's suddenly an awful lot of Highlander Hybrid owners, with < 2 year-old cars, who are going out to buy replacement tires and finding that their only options are:
1) Horrible, badly manufactured tires from Toyo, that are suicidally awful on snow, reviewed in the bottom 5% of all tires in their class, and yet sell at a massive dealer-markup premium.
2) Spending the money to buy new rims and go to a completely different sized tire, at a cost that will run well into the 4-figures until all is said and done.
3) Putting tires on the vehicle that aren't the exact same size, and therefore cause a variety of issues with everything from the speedometer to the hybrid system.
Of course, Toyota disclaims all knowledge of the fact that there is any issue here. Dealers won't talk about it. But 3rd-party tire retailers are all too happy to tell you how massively screwed you are, and to outline what few (expensive) options are available to you.
I'm in the process of going through #3... a 1.5% error in my speedometer and ABS system is well within any reasonable safety tolerance, by all accounts, and so it seems like the most palatable option. Palatable, if you consider $225 per tire, for a slightly-less-boutique size of tire, as a palatable option.
This is my first seriously negative experience with Toyota. I'm going to have to call shenanigans on them for this one... providing tires on a new vehicle that wear out in less than 20,000 miles, manufacturing to a spec that no supplier is willing to pick up, and then refusing to even acknowledge that there is a problem? For shame, Toyota.
The case that I should have bought the Honda Pilot is beginning to pile up, as winter progresses. *sigh*