Don't get me wrong -- I love Toyota cars.
But I'm not loving what's happened since February 5 of this year, when my wife and I thought we were putting in a special order for a 2019 RAV4 Hybrid in Limited Trim -- Blizzard Pearl color with black interior, plus several option packages.
Based on my experience with special ordering several other cars fairly recently, a Mini Cooper S and a Chevy Volt, I expected that after we told a salesman at Capitol Toyota here in Salem, Oregon exactly what we wanted in a 2019 RAV4 Hybrid, that information would be used by Toyota to manufacture a car to our specifications.
In retrospect, the first hint that this wasn't what was going to happen came around the first of March, when we asked the salesman if he could give us an update on our order. He said something like, "Toyota hasn't started making RAV4 Limited's yet."
That didn't send off major alarm bells, because I figured that as soon as Limited's did begin to be made, Toyota would manufacture ours -- since we had ordered a RAV4 Hybrid even before the car was officially introduced, basing our decision on reviews we'd read of the 2019 RAV4.
However, March came and went with no news about our order. This month I decided to check out what RAV4's were showing up on dealer web sites in our area, including Capitol Toyota's site. I saw that several RAV4 Hybrid Limited cars were available, though none with the color and options that we wanted.
This caused me to phone our salesman again, and to also do some Googling about "Toyota special order car." What I learned was more than a little disturbing.
So far as I can tell, Toyota doesn't actually build a car based on a special order.
Rather, that order merely tells the dealership what sort of car you want. If they ever get one that matches those specifications, the dealer will sell it to you (assuming someone else hasn't put in an order for the same sort of car before you did).
Or, the dealer might be able to get another dealership to send them a car that matches what you want. How long could this take? Last time I talked with our salesman, who knows? It could be a month. Or two months. Or longer.
It just depends on how long it takes for a 2019 RAV4 Hybrid Limited with the exterior and interior colors we want, plus the options we want, to become available in the Pacific Northwest.
This seems screwy to me, but it sure appears to be Toyota's policy.
Toyota has a FAQ site. One question is "If the dealer doesn't have the vehicle I want, can I place a special order?" Here's the answer.
Toyota dealerships work with our regional offices to determine what vehicle combinations are in demand in their geographical market, and request vehicle allocations accordingly. Because of this, some model configurations and options may not be available in your area, while other options may be available, but only as part of a combination of packages. Your local Toyota dealership can advise you whether a preference can be submitted for your desired vehicle. This preference request does not guarantee you will receive the vehicle with the exact options requested, and may create an extended wait-time.
To which my blunt response is, WTF?
My wife and I want a fully-loaded 2019 RAV4 Hybrid Limited, which retails at around $40,000. When we put down a $500 deposit on our special order, we didn't view this as a "preference." We want to buy a car that has the colors and options we asked for.
Yet Toyota thinks it is just fine to make customers endure an "extended wait-time" for the car they want, whereas Mini Cooper and Chevrolet built us cars to order within several months (our Mini came from Great Britain, even).
Another FAQ is "Why can't I configure a vehicle with the equipment I want using the Build a Toyota feature?' Here's part of the answer to that question.
Our vehicles are generally equipped with options and model grades that we have found to be popular in the geographic area in which they are marketed. We do extensive market surveys and studies to assist in forecasting product features and equipment that will be desirable to the consumer.
And in some instances, particularly with new models just launched, your region might have limited or no availability of certain trim levels or selected options while we build up inventory.
So again, Toyota isn't going to manufacture a car from our special order. Rather, our order, which turns out to be not very special, simply means that if Toyota ever sends our dealer a car that matches what we want, we have a good chance of being able to buy it.
Someday. Date undetermined.
Now, maybe I'm not completely understanding the Toyota special order process. A Capitol Toyota supervisor told me that after a VIN (vehicle identification number) is connected with our order, the car can be tracked.
But it still seems to me that this won't be because a car has been specifically made for us, but because a car that matches our order happens to have been made by Toyota.
Hopefully our special order saga will have a happy ending. I just hope that ending occurs fairly soon, since right now we have no idea when we might see the RAV4 Hybrid we've ordered.
And I want to emphasize that my wife and I are totally pleased with how Capitol Toyota has treated us. We've bought several Prius'es, several Highlanders, and a MR2 from Capitol Toyota over the years. It's just Toyota's special order process that I find irritating and in need of improvement.