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October 14, 2015
John Oliver had a segment on Last Week Tonight this past weekend about ISIS' use of predominantly Toyota vehicles and the investigation into this by the U.S. Treasury Department's Terror Financing Unit.
Toyota denied that it had anything to do with this, and pointed out that it can't control who buys their vehicles on the secondary (used car) market.
Sure, it looks suspicious. Let me explain why it's entirely normal.
Why all the same?
First of all, let's start all the way back in World War I. When the American automobile industry consisted of hundreds of manufacturers and no one company was big enough to fill the entire army's demand, maintenance and repairs of the army's trucks became a problem because there were so many different makes of trucks in the field.
This was solved by World War II by having standardized vehicles, where for example Ford and Willys manufactured what we now know as the Jeep. Modern civilian fleets do this, too: consider UPS, which uses thousands of trucks manufactured to the same specs.
The point is, if you've got a large fleet in a war zone, it makes sense to make them all the same vehicle so that parts and tires are interchangeable and maintenance is easier.
But ISIS isn't big enough to create its own specs and order its own vehicles (not that anyone would cooperate) so they have to purchase what's available to them.
So why did they pick Toyota's trucks? It's pretty damn obvious: availability. We all know that Toyota has been one of the most prolific automakers on the planet for many years, and Toyotas are especially popular in the Middle East. Take a look around Instagram accounts from the region, where the Toyota Prado (Land Cruiser) is a common status symbol. Kabul is the last stop for the world's used Corollas where at one point 90% of civilian vehicles on its streets were old Corollas.
Of course reliability has something to do with the selection of Toyota, too, but reliability created availability in much the same way the Camry & Corolla's reliability made those cars so common on American roads.
How did they assemble the fleet?
And that brings us to the third major point: how do you piece together such a fleet on the secondary market? Well, you don't have to buy them all from one place at one time, y'know?
A quick check of Autotrader's app shows that if I wanted to build a big fleet of white Toyota trucks I've got 69 Tacomas, 71 Tundras, 37 4Runners, and 4 Land Cruisers within 100 miles of Woodstock, Illinois.
If you've got a shit ton of cash stolen from Mosul's banks and you live in the part of the world where Toyotas are as common as Fords are here, it's not hard at all to send some people out to buy a parking lot full of Toyotas.
So as suspicious as it might look to the Treasury Department, the mere existence of ISIS' Toyota fleet isn't proof of anything other than there are a LOT of Toyota trucks in the Middle East, and Toyota couldn't stop ISIS from buying them even if they tried. Heck, it would have been more suspicious if they had a fleet of anything but Toyotas.
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