One of epistemologist Karl Popper’s (above) most valuable contributions to the philosophy of science was the notion that a theory can never actually be proven true – only false – and that this quality, what he termed falsifiability, is the single defining mark of any theory.
Popper, a former Professor at the London School of Economics, believed that one of the fundamental issues with the scientific method is the confirmation bias: that more evidence in favour of a statement or theory may increase our confidence in it, but does not prove it in any meaningful way. In other words, no matter how many times a theory is supported, one piece of contrary evidence is sufficient, as well as necessary, to unravel the whole idea; that is, to falsify it. Take the statement “All swans are white”, for example. Observing more white swans increases our confidence that the statement is true, but the observation of a single black swan, such as those seen in Australia, falsifies the statement.
This is a powerful idea and one of the most important notions of 20th century philosophy. Essentially, what we all learned in elementary school science class, that we develop a hypothesis and then conduct an experiment to either confirm or contradict the hypothesis is erroneous. We can never fully prove a hypothesis of the observable world, but we can most certainly falsify it.
Which brings us to both of today’s test vehicles. In one corner we have the stalwart of “reliability”, from the brand that practically coined the term in the modern era, the Toyota Tacoma. In the other corner we have the fresh-faced Kia Rio5, one of many in a recent string of thoroughly revamped products from the emergent manufacturer, one with little history of “reliability” to speak of.
The Toyota Tacoma needs no introduction, and frankly needs little explanation at all. For a really long ass time, Toyota has been making small pickups that have demonstrated themselves to be trust-worthy companions, like an aged Golden Sheppard that always curls up in the same spot at the foot of your bed. Our anecdotal evidence, what has essentially become Common Knowledge, is that the Tacoma can handle the taxing desert sun of Afghanistan, the muddy volcanoes of Maui, or the unforgiving arctic of Canada with alarming uniformity. Most of us feel, almost intuitively, that the Toyota Tacoma is as close to an unstoppable force of nature as man has yet mass-produced.
Decades of evidence, however, do not prove that the Tacoma is reliable, consistent, and appropriate for almost any climate; this evidence serves only to increase our confidence in our theory, but it can never prove it. And that’s not a minor point. It’s worth emphasizing. The way your friends and co-workers talk about cars is in absolute and unshakable certainties: “Dodge sucks”, “I only buy GM”, and “German cars will bankrupt you” are all such examples, and only the latter statement actually has any merit.
So while the 2012 Tacoma TRD that we tested recently was sure-footed, Stoic, and overly capable, occurrences such as the February 12, 2010 recall of 8,000 MY2010 Tacomas over potential front drive shaft issues can call into question the entire theory, as do reports of oil leaks, water leaks, suspension noise, and transmission issues in recent years, particularly with MY2005. We are therefore forced to reject the widely held belief that the Toyota Tacoma is a sterling model of reliability. It may still be the most reliable small truck, even if it’s hardly small by global standards, but our Common Knowledge isn’t as supreme and invincible as we’d like to believe.
If that seemed murky and pedantic, just wait until we get to the all-new 2012 Kia Rio5. Not only is the new Rio5 cursed with a smooshy, matted down face, falsifying the Common Knowledge that Kia Design Boss Peter Schreyer walks on water, but it has yet to demonstrate its “reliability” by any measure.
The only reason, in my opinion, to buy a new car off the lot is if you plan to own it for 10 years. That way, you take full advantage of the warranty and the wallop of initial depreciation is amortized over a longer period. If you only want a new car for 3 years, lease it. If you tire of cars even more quickly than that, or like buying more luxurious or sporty cars than you should otherwise be able to afford, buy used. So if you want to buy a new car and keep it for 10 years, even with Kia’s impressive warranty, its suspect reliability records should be cause for concern. Right? Don’t we need more data? Only in the last 2-3 years has Kia’s reliability markedly improved into the realm of class average. Yet the swelling with popular enthusiasm and an eager press make it seem like Kia is the new Honda, based confusingly on Kia’s strong value rather than Honda-like dependability.
This is where we would normally, in the vein of contrarianism long held as the hallmark of CarEnvy.ca, remain necessarily skeptical. Strong “reliability”, at the level reached by the Ford Fiesta and Honda Fit, cannot be proved. But nor, as Karl Popper famously demonstrated, can it ever be.
Yes, we can still gain confidence over time. But the beauty of Popper’s idea is that summed up in as such: confidence is not proof.
A fledgling brand such as Kia should make us a bit weary. Has the company grown too fast? Is it sustainable? How will their new products hold up 10 years from now? We don’t know. We can’t know. We like to pretend that we can answer these incredibly complex and multivariate questions with simplistic answers that weave an easy-to-remember story, but all in the end all we really have are stories.
Despite Kia issuing recalls more frequently than its competitors for far more serious safety-related issues, everything ranging from airbags malfunctions to wheels cracking to seat belt buckles that don’t latch, we really have no clue how these new vehicles will fare. We just think we do. Compared to the Rio5, the Tacoma seems, based on backward-looking “evidence”, to be the more “reliable” of the two, but complete redesigns have a way of resetting the score. So although Canadian recalls on the Toyota Tacoma have thus far been mundane to the point of triviality or only affecting a miniscule number of units, both the Rio5 and Tacoma could spend just as much time in the shop and both be just as likely to kill you. I’m not saying that this is the case, but the point is that we don’t know. And we can’t.
The 2012 Rio5 is inexpensive, has stellar financing incentives, is feature-laden to the point of bewilderment (back-up cam ftw!), spacious, surprisingly quick and possessing one of the most polished 6-speed automatics around. Ok, so driving the Rio5 over gravel sounds like you’re living inside an Australian rain stick, but maybe there’s not much gravel where you live.
The 2012 Tacoma TRD has an interior that, despite the age of the hidden bits, looks as fresh and contemporary as any other Toyota. The TRD package makes it look manly and badass, which is all buyers really want.
One is supposed to be reliable, according to Common Knowledge, and one isn’t. But Karl Popper saves us from ourselves and shines a positive light on Kia’s turnaround in the process. The biggest problem for the Tacoma and Rio5, then, is their Blue Ovaled competition. The Fiesta is more fun to drive and imparts a greater sense of quality than the Rio5, but costs a bit more, while the F-150 EcoBoost is faster, a lot faster, but also costs a bit more. Both premiums are, however, fully justified for prospective buyers. Popper might have saved us from the notion of reliability, but there’s no escaping competition.
And that’s the Philosophy of Driving for this week. See you next Monday morning!
[Photo credits: The Core, author via Instagram]