The idea probably looked good on the drawing board: place a spanking new car on an isolated rock off the Western Cape coast, as the centrepiece of the launch of a new Toyota. In the words of a recent TV ad, what could go wrong? The weather, that’s what. A storm suddenly blew up and a huge wave washed the car into the Atlantic Ocean. Months of planning were undone by a splash of water. In the case of an American brand, the problem was a fat foot. A theatre audience of journalists, dealers, customers and assorted VIPs applauded as the curtains parted to reveal the new car moving slowly to the front of the stage — then ran for their lives as it continued over the edge, landing where guests had been moments earlier. The driver’s size 12, it emerged later, had slipped from the brake to the accelerator. Motor companies spend millions of rands on new-vehicle launches. It’s the chance to make an indelible impression for a vehicle that will be on the market for years. That’s why some go for ...

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