The Farce Behind The Toyota Hearings

February 24, 2010

Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda

Point: Toyota has a serious problem. No, wait. Strike that. Toyota has two serious problems. Only one of them is the subject of investigation and seeing the light of day, however.

The first problem is, of course, that they have some serious issues that need to be addressed regarding the safety of their vehicles. Gas pedals that stick and, in one case, may be the cause of a crash in California that killed four members of one family.

But it didn’t take long for the Obama administration (and Congress) to turn a simple recall into a modern-day Inquisition. In record time, Congress ordered hearings.

Today, Akio Toyoda, CEO of Toyota, is being grilled by a hostile House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, three members of which have a Chrysler, General Motors, or Honda presence in their districts.

In no way am I attempting to trivialize the importance of Toyota admitting to a problem, then fixing it. But the car maker has done both. What I do find troublesome is the fact that the Obama administration seems to be going after Toyota with a Torquemada-like zeal. It is unlike any previous cases of automaker recalls over safety issues:

  • In November, 2003, Ford recalled 343,250 Windstar minivans worldwide after a U.S. government compliance test showed a rear seat could become dislodged in a crash. There was no Congressional hearing.
  • The same month, Jeep recalled 438,000 Jeep Libertys due to
  • In December, 2003, Suzuki had to recall 196,876 Grand Vitara and XL-7 SUVs to fix an accelerator cable that can stick. No Congressional hearing.
  • That same month, Ford recalled 132,243 Ford Escape SUVs to fix seat belt buckles that failed to latch periodically. No Congressional hearing.
  • Also the same month, Volvo had to recall 71,000 cars worldwide (15,000 cars in America) to check for fuel leaks, following reports of fuel leaks into the engine. No Congressional hearing.

Honda, Subaru, Nissan, and Toyota all had recalls during that year. None of them resulted in Congressional hearings.

This is not to condone any problem that Toyota may be responsible for and I fully expect Toyota to make good on any issues; but given how previous recalls have been handled (including those by manufacturers who insisted they were not responsible or liable), one has to wonder if the hearings today aren’t an over-reaction by the Obama administration.

If so, could it possibly have anything to do with the fact that Toyota manufacturing plants in the United States do not use union labor? Is the hearing really impartial when the U.S. government is part owner of GM?

Or is it possible… just possible… that the hearings are part of a larger goal to force Toyota to accept union workers?

Without question, Toyota needs to resolve this acceleration issue (and it is doing so). But for the Obama administration to take this to the level of Congressional hearings is, in my mind, a dramatic over-reaction; some might even call it grand-standing, to make Obama appear Presidential at a time when his image is one of impotence as a leader.

If Toyota wishes to save face, I would recommend the following:

  • Spare no expense in solving the problem from an engineering standpoint.
  • Admit and accept responsibility.
  • Let your actions in taking these measures speak on your behalf.
  • Then, have Toyota CEO Akio Toyota meet with President Obama for a beer summit, then leave after grabbing a photo of Obama bowing to him. That photo would be worth its weight in gold for advertising.

Sudden, unexplained acceleration? Sounds like it could be a case of, “Ohhhh what a feeling… Toyota!”

Over-reaction at the Congressional level for political gain? Sounds like it could be a case of “Ohhhhh…bama!”

UPDATE: Tom Blumer of Pajamas Media weighs in on the Inquisition

Gerry Ashley