Business, Finance & Economics

Insurgents and their Toyotas

Brand Toyota is taking a hit in the global marketplace. But the company still has the full confidence of one group of drivers: insurgents in places like Afghanistan. Anchor Marco Werman asks the BBC’s David Loyn why the Taliban love their Toyotas.

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MARCO WERMAN: Toyota’s woes may be benefiting competitors around the globe, but the Japanese auto maker retains the full confidence of at least one group of customers, insurgents from Afghanistan to Africa find that certain Toyotas are perfect for waging war.  The BBC’s David Loyn is on the line.  David, I imagine you’ve seen more than a few of these Toyota pick ups and four by fours.

DAVID LOYN: I’ve traveled in them a lot with insurgents, particularly in Afghanistan.  Certainly there was a range during the late 1990′s called the Hilux, the Toyota Hilux.  That was the only vehicle that the Taliban really wanted to drive in.  In some ways this became like the Huey Helicopter in Viet Nam, it became a weapon of war.  It became a really vital part of the Taliban first rise to power in the mid 1990′s.  They moved extremely quickly with very large fleets of these four wheel drive vehicles across the countryside of Afghanistan in a way that Armies hadn’t moved before.  It was that sheer flexibility that enabled them to move to take first the south and then Kabul.  So this was not just a prestige piece of equipment with smoked windows for Taliban Commanders, it was also something they used with great tactical effect.

WERMAN: And what do these insurgents use them for?  Is it transporting material?  Is it for staging attacks?

LOYN: Well both.  It absolutely is for them to go around in.  They usually have the open back trucks and if they’re lucky they’ve got two rows of seat in front of that so that the bigger pick ups, I guess, but they’ve been in the region for a long time.  Toyota were really clever very early on being a big part of the Japanese Aid Program.  So whereas different countries, you know the United States might give grain and different countries might give medical relief, Japan gave Toyota trucks.  If you were a U.N. agency, you got a Toyota at very, very low rates.  It was a really clever piece of marketing because it meant that in these fragile countries, if the country then came good, you suddenly had everybody saying Toyotas are great vehicles, the four wheel drive vehicles.  They succeeded, in particular in Afghanistan, getting a big Japanese second-hand car trade as well.  So the smaller saloon cars, Toyota Corollas because the absolutely standard taxi.  They’re very, very robust and because of the strange history of trade, they’ve absolutely owned the market really in the developing world.

WERMAN: I know it’s not funny, but I can kind of imagine one of those testimonial commercials with an insurgent saying I just love my Toyota.  But have you ever spoken with an insurgent commander about why they love a Toyota so much?

LOYN: They wouldn’t drive anything else.  Yes, I have.  And they’re proud of them, they really look after them and there are mechanics right across Afghanistan who can fix these things.  I was once in one.  We went to, they play this extraordinary game in the north of Afghanistan called Buscashi, which is men on horses chasing after the carcass of a car.  It’s incredibly macho battle between two groups of horsemen and the Toyota that I traveled up there in was actually quite badly damaged by two of these horses smashing against the side of it.  We just managed to tow it to a nearby shack and somebody pulled, with a lever, pulled the body work this way and that way and put in a new spring at the bottom and it was completely fixed in about an hour.  They can be fixed.  They’re very rugged and robust vehicles like that which is one of the reasons why they’ve become so popular.  But no, during the early years of the Taliban no self-respecting commander would be seen without this Toyota four wheel drive.

WERMAN: Great story.  David Loyn is the BBC’s international development correspondent and he spoke with us from London.  Thank you.

LOYN: Yes, thanks Marco.

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