Toyota's Complicated Relationship With the Taliban
Oct 14, 2021 · 4 min read
One of Toyota's corporate slogans is "Creating Mobility for All," but widely shared videos of the Taliban driving around in their vehicles is probably not what they had in mind.
With the Taliban’s resurgence comes an uncomfortable reminder that, for the last 25 years, Toyota pickups and SUVs have been the cars of choice for Afghan militants.
In some ways, Toyota should be flattered. The Taliban like Toyotas because they can handle the rugged desert conditions and rarely break down.
When compared to other high-performance vehicles, Toyotas are relatively cheap, and replacement parts are easy to source.
However, as you might imagine, Toyota is embarrassed by the association, and the Japanese car giant is taking steps to ensure the Taliban don’t get their hands on the next generation Land Cruiser.
A brief history of Toyota and the Taliban
Quartz describes the first time anyone noticed the Taliban’s affinity for Toyota. It was back in 1996, when journalists from India Today reported seeing "tanks and ammunition-laden Toyota Hilux trucks racing into Afghanistan’s capital."
Five years later, a New York Times article described Taliban fighters policing Kabul "From their Land Cruisers and Hiluxes," and in 2015, the U.S. State Department asked for Toyota’s help in determining how Islamic militants were able to buy brand-new Toyota vehicles.
But why Toyota?
Well, first of all, Toyotas are very reliable, which is why they boast some of the cheapest SUVs to insure, and Toyota pickup trucks are praised for their longevity.
This durability makes them well-suited to Afghanistan’s rugged terrain and network of unpaved roads.
If something does break, Toyotas are easy to repair compared to other brands, and spare parts are widely available across the Middle East.
The final reason for Toyota’s popularity among the Taliban is an ideological one; Toyota is not an American brand.
Why is the Taliban a problem for Toyota?
While the Taliban doesn’t elicit the same anger in Japan as it does in America, it’s not an association that makes Toyota proud.
Toyota knows that having their brand associated with hardline Islamic militants is terrible for business in the West, and it could also lead to legal penalties.
Quoted in Quartz, a Toyota spokesperson says, "There is a risk of violating foreign exchange law, and depending on the export destination, it may lead to major problems that threaten global security."
It is not surprising then, that Toyota is taking steps to prevent its newest SUV from ending up in the hands of the Taliban.
Keeping the 2022 Land Cruiser from the Taliban
The Land Cruiser is one of Toyota’s longest running models, and previous versions have ended up with terrorists, sometimes retrofitted with anti-aircraft guns.
Back in 2015, when asked about ISIS fighters using its trucks, Toyota said it had banned sales to "potential purchasers who may use or modify them for paramilitary or terrorist activities," but could not control vehicles that were stolen or resold.
It seems Toyota has now taken a harder stance. Anyone buying the giant 2022 Land Cruiser has to sign a contract promising not to resell the car for at least 12 months. If a customer breaks the contract, both they and the original dealer could face a large fine.
In a statement, Toyota confirmed, "we are concerned about the flow of vehicles from Japan to overseas immediately after their release, as well as the possibility of them being exported to certain regions where security regulations are in place."
It remains to be seen if these safeguards are enough to keep the 2022 Land Cruiser from falling into the wrong hands, but based on the lifespan of their existing Toyota vehicles, the Taliban can probably afford to wait.