First, I just want to say that Toyota does not intentionally give their vehicles to militant forces in the Middle East. Clearly, the brand is making an effort to prevent that, as we’ve seen through their recent statements regarding the second-hand sales of the Toyota Land Cruiser. However, it does beg the question: why do we see so many ISIS and Taliban militants with Toyota trucks, both old and new? It turns out, things are much more complicated than you’d think.
U.S. counter-terror officials have asked about this before
The image of a Toyota truck with a machine gun mounted on the back has become a defining image of conflicts in the Mideast, especially in our post-9/11 world. In fact, it became so linked with these conflicts that the United States Government noticed. Per ABC News in 2015, government officials asked Toyota to explain themselves. After all, it wasn’t just old Toyota Land Cruisers popping up in places like Afghanistan and Yemen, it was new ones too.
At the time, Toyota didn’t have much of an answer. And how could they? Unfortunately, it’s somewhat hard to keep track of a vehicle after it goes to a dealer. Sure, you can run the VIN, find out where it’s been serviced, et cetera. But, at the end of the day, that’s all ex post facto; after the fact. So, Toyota said, “Sorry, we’re trying to keep the Toyota Land Cruiser out of these conflicts, but they disappear once they’re sold.”
In defense of the Toyota Land Cruiser- and Toyota
Frankly, that’s very true, whether we like it or not. Toyota, like other automakers, has dealers all over the world. Those dealers are at the end of the day, a largely independent business. Yes, that dealer is a “Toyota dealer”, but that usually means Toyota has a contract with them, nothing more. In a statement, the brand said that “Toyota has a “strict policy to not sell vehicles to potential purchasers who may use or modify them for paramilitary or terrorist activities.” No one wants to directly supply terrorists. You can’t sell cars if people think you do that.
But the reputation of the Toyota Land Cruiser for durability has gotten ahead of the brand, making it a popular choice in conflict zones. That has made the Land Cruiser rather desirable to terror groups. Like any armed force, they need reliable, versatile transport. The Toyota Land Cruiser is the HUMVEE of the Taliban. The Taliban, and groups like them, are using their funds to purchase or intimidate dealers into selling them these cars.
How can automakers prevent second-hand deals like this?
The dealer network is key to preventing these things. If a dealer won’t sell to “unscrupulous” third parties, it’ll be much harder for these vehicles to end up in the wrong hands. If Toyota is now focusing on third-party sales, that means they’ve done something to incentivize dealers. In all likelihood, that means pulling contracts from dealers, in addition to banning third-party sales. However, the damage has been done, and the Toyota Land Cruiser is now forever linked with these conflicts. At the very least, Toyota is trying its best to prevent that.