People see me driving a new car every other week and they naturally assume that being a motoring journalist is quite a cushy job, and yes, I’ll admit that sometimes it can be a fun job — but sometimes it isn’t.
Getting into this industry wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be because it is still largely white and male-dominated.
However, in the past two years or so I’ve come across mostly forward-thinking motoring manufacturers embracing a changing South Africa as well as those whose global failures are echoed in their complete lack of professionalism.
But, I’m not the only journo who has a tough time with some backward manufacturers, as my colleagues (black and white, though mostly black), experience similar frustrations. So, when we get together and the whisky flows, so do the complaints.
It’s difficult to report on those manufacturers who sometimes ignore black journos because their tactics are rather sneaky and their excuses are wide-ranging and can’t always be readily dismissed as disingenuous.
It was during one of these sessions that I noticed which companies we weren’t complaining about, and most of them were Japanese. One, in particular, that featured only when we felt the need to balance out our whining with some recognition for companies that treated black and white, male and female journos with the same sense of professionalism and fairness, was Toyota.
We all had similarly positive experiences with the Japanese giant and I realised that that was largely the reason why Toyota has overtaken American brands to become one of the world’s largest car makers — because it leads the way.
Take, for example, the Transformers movie: despite the good Transformers being American vehicles, when the protagonist took his first real good look at the robot his car had transformed into, he remarked to his girlfriend that it was some sort of super robot and it that it was “definitely Japanese”.
What he said confirmed what any one of us would have been thinking: that any truly advanced and revolutionary technology would have to be of Eastern and possibly Japanese origin.
Looking back on Toyota’s 50 years in motorsport, it’s easy to see why this manufacturer continues to be at the forefront of global vehicle manufacturing.
To commemorate its 50th motorsport anniversary, Toyota opted for its main celebrations to take place at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in Winchester, England.
The Goodwood festival is one of the largest motoring festivals in the world and Toyota was the main sponsor of this year’s event, which saw more than 350 cars and motorcycles on display and which were also seen making their way around the famous Hillclimb track at full speed.
At the festival, I saw everything from vintage vehicles on tyres the size of Marie biscuits to Superbikes and Formula One vehicles such as Toyota’s F1 car being driven by Ralf Schumacher.
One of the nicest aspects is that the cars were being driven at full tilt, so, while some of us obviously appreciate the growl of a throaty engine, the earplugs certainly proved useful when the F1 cars were literally screaming around the track.
When we tired of the noisy competitors, we wandered around the exhibitions, which included land-speed attempt vehicles, supercars and some of the world’s rarest and most beautiful machinery.
There were also Toyota exhibits including legendary racing vehicles, an F1 booth display, a 4×4 experience and a chance to meet some of Toyota’s racing drivers. Of course, the crowds went completely nuts for the more charismatic of the Schumacher brothers, Ralf, who didn’t seem at all fazed by the hordes of people wanting autographs and pictures.
Toyota’s international motorsport exploits started with an entry into the 17 000km Rally of Australia in 1957 and from there it has made its mark in, among other races, the World Rally Championship and American Nascar racing. It is also one of F1’s principle teams.
Just three years after entering F1, Toyota scored its first podium finish with Jarno Trulli finishing second at the Malaysian Grand Prix in 2005.
Of course, F1’s attempt at a greener image with new technical regulations from 2009, which will hopefully promote fuel efficiency, means that all teams will have to develop more efficient engines and Toyota is already making headway in the development of such engines.
The FT-HS concept vehicle is a potent hybrid with sports car fundamentals. Powered by a V6 3,5-litre engine, the FT-HS is coupled with Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive to give the car a 0-100km/h in the four-second range with fuel-efficiency figures that might just make it a sports car suitable for the 21st century.
When considering the impact Toyota has had on the world of motorsport in such a short space of time, it really isn’t that surprising when you begin to realise how passionate Toyota employees are.
At the United Kingdom headquarters, South African media were welcomed with genuine warmth and faultless efficiency. Walking from the foyer where a full-size replica of one of Toyota’s F1 vehicles is on display to the waiting area where a Lexus convertible hangs from the roof and ending up in the canteen where employees dine in the company of some of Toyota’s latest models, one gets the distinct feeling that these guys eat, drink and sleep thinking about Toyota.