Athol to Toyota “No Thank You”

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A business man is confused with a River Rat Race from Athol MA poster in the image. He is confused about what the comparison of 2019 GMC Terrain vs 2019 Jeep Cherokee has to do with Toyota.

Athol, MA – There are times when a story takes a dogleg turn, taking you in an entirely different direction. There are even times when our work circles back on itself, forming links that we might not have anticipated. Sometimes, we’re even blindsided by the influence that our work can yield. For example, we were exploring the popularity of the 2019 GMC Terrain vs 2019 Jeep Cherokee in North Central Massachusetts when we learned that one area town actually penalizes its citizens based on their car-buying preferences. And a recent, albeit tenuous connection formed between that particular town and one automotive giant—inspired by a Lemon article—that caught us off guard. And if you’re reading this, thinking that automaker was either GMC or Jeep, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.

Amidst the onslaught of negative headlines which have befallen the automotive industry, only a handful of automakers have emerged relatively unscathed. Ranking among those select few is Toyota, whose stellar reputation has earned them acclaim as one of the most reliable—and dare we say, transparent—manufacturers in the automotive market today. Bottom-line, if there is sunlight to be found in the automotive industry, it shines brightly on Toyota. That is, of course, until they became the unwitting protagonist of a recent story recounted here at The Lemon.

And while Toyota (who ranks as the world’s most valuable car brand) and their 7.9 million Facebook followers represent a juggernaut tide unlikely to be swayed by The Lemon and our 236 occasional readers who are about as faithful as my first wife, the 2700 people who ‘like’ Athol, Massachusetts on Facebook proved to be a more engaged audience.

Mark Zuckerberg's face is next to page links for Toyota, Athol, Massachusetts, and The Lemon, which is circled in red.
As shown above, Mark Zuckerberg only cares about one of these three things. Here’s a hint, it’s not the one that’s circled. It’s also not Athol.

And engaged they were (for better or worse) with the story of one area man’s explosive(?) enthusiasm for the new Toyota Supra. Some took issue with our use of rigid stereotypes commonly associated with the small North Central Massachusetts town. Others were quick to point out our error in grouping Athol as part of Western Mass. Some were just eager to initiate an enduring bromance with yours truly (Hi Mike!). But the sharing of our article on Facebook reached viral status (well…by Athol standards, at least) and Toyota’s social media team picked up on that activity, noting the collective sense of discomfort with the headline expressed by the small town. And since any press is good press, Toyota chose to embrace the opportunity and redirect the narrative, doing right by the people of Athol, MA.

(Editor’s Note: We apologize to any readers who read this for a comparison of the Terrain vs. Jeep Cherokee. We also apologize to residents of Athol, just because. For what it’s worth, we’d pick the Jeep but be warned, it seems like either one’s going to cost you more out if you live in Athol…)

A map of MA shows a map of North Central map in light red with Athol in a darker red.
Fun Fact: Albeit the westernmost point, Athol IS part of North Central Massachusetts (not Western Mass). Fortunately for The Lemon, our readers are willing to call our asses out.

Now, even the most protective and proprietary of Athol’s residents are likely to agree that they’re part of a modest community. Offering a near absence of tourism appeal, the town had benefited greatly by a sort of ‘new renaissance’ in the late ‘90s/early ‘00s. But like the deepest recesses of the ocean, and areas of the rainforest where dinosaurs are still likely to exist, Athol has remained largely unaffected by modern society (discounting it’s hosting of a heart-warming episode of ‘Million Dollar Dream Home’).

Two men are standing on the back of a flat bed pickup truck with an unsafe ladder while other men watch.
Members of the Athol DPW look on as the River Rat Race is used as a “Safety First. That’s our Motto!” team-building exercise.

What Athol does have, though, is the Annual River Rat Race—a competitive river event that doubles as a street party complete with copious amounts of alcohol and community spirit. Having taken place on April 13th, the 56th Annual River Rat Race was stronger than ever, with people coming from miles around, forming teams to paddle down the river or just to have some drinks in the company of friends and loved ones.

Many colorful canoes are racing in the river with people watch from the banks.
Intoxicated spectators look on at the River Rat Race before competitors begin to drunkenly club each other with paddles.

And Toyota saw an opportunity to do right by the people of Athol, offering a significant sponsorship consisting of an undisclosed monetary donation, and a 2020 Toyota GR Supra (complete with one-of-a-kind ‘Racing Orange’ paint job) to be raffled off among the thousands of fun-loving attendees.

“Unfortunately,” explains Jeff Tahiro, Toyota Northeast VP of Community Relations, “Athol declined our offer. There are no hard feelings, and we respect the wishes of this proud community in protecting their event from corporate influence, but our attempt was pure in its intentions. What we failed to anticipate were two key missteps. First: Athol’s hardwired hatred of all-things ‘Orange’ (which happens to be the name of their neighboring small-town rivals) exposed poor judgment on our part when offering that particular specialty paint job. Second: a bizarre, decades-old statue from 1983 which allows Athol to increase individual excise tax by 27% on any non-Ford vehicles. From what we can discern, the town had once boasted a Ford Dealership as one of its major landmarks. In fact, the influence of that particular dealership was so intense, that it once forced a Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep/RAM dealership to operate out of nearby Orange, because it was beyond town lines.”

That said, we applaud both Toyota (for their attempt to support local communities) and Athol (for their fun-loving, drunken spirit and stick-to-it-ness regarding the grandfathering of backroom commercial policy). We have to stick together, people… Just like everything stuck together at that crime scene we had reported about back in February.

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