“There is striking evidence that the company was at times more concerned with profit than with customer safety.” Representative Edolphus Downs (Democrat-New York, Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee ) February 24, 2010.
“It is my understanding there are no Americans in the top leadership in Japan. It might be a good idea to put a couple Americans in the top leadership.” Representative John J. (Jimmy) Duncan Jr. (Republican-Tennessee and Member of the HOGRC) February 24, 2010 (maybe good idea brush up grammar, Jimmy).
“Toyota North America has some great people there, very professional, good people. we work with them. They make recommendations to Japan. The decisions are made in Japan.” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood ( in testimony before the HOGRC) February 24, 2010 (a trifle racist, do you not think Mr. Lahood?)
“I said. Lookit: This is serious. Lives are being lost. Right after that, they started taking action.” Ray Lahood (the same meeting; the grammar problem appears to be catching at HOGRC).
“Toyota may be interested in trading dollars for lives, despite the likelihood of its products causing deaths and injuries, but its customers’ aren’t.” Joan Claybrook, Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration under President Carter. Her chief claim to fame at NHTSA was forcing automakers to install air bags despite warnings that the technology needed further development to avoid killing infants and children. At least 65 deaths resulted, including infants and children who were decapitated by the exploding devices. (Source: The Washington Examiner, February 25 , 2010).
“All the Toyota vehicles bear my name. When the cars are damaged, it is as though I am, as well.” Akio Toyoda ( the grandson of the founder of the world’s largest automaker) Testifying before the HOGRC February 24, 2010.
“I am deeply sorry for any accidents Toyota drivers have experienced.” Akio Toyoda (once again).
“We will listen to customer complaints humbly.” Akio Toyoda (once again).
“We apologize for the embarrassing way some members of Congress treated you these past few days. If Bill Gates had been treated the way you were in your country, imagine what would happen. We sincerely apologize.” Paul Atkinson, who represents a Toyota council of dealers in the United States.
Well, Mr. Toyoda (like Mr. Smith before him) came to Washington. Like Mr. Smith, his welcoming hosts gripped him warmly by the throat. Like Mr. Smith, Mr. Toyoda brought civility, good manners, and good grammar to a place where those attributes do not appear to flourish; most especially when campaign funding is on the line and can be brazenly pursued before the entire nation’s television cameras. Oh, would it be impolite to mention that Mr. Toyoda incidentally brings a large number of well-paying blue-as well as white-collar jobs to the United States? I suppose that it would be, since these jobs are (gasp!) Japanese creations!
Readers of this column will know that the United States government is a not entirely disinterested party in this episode of Japanese assault and battery. The Obama administration currently owns Government Motors, the company that was driven into Chapter 11 bankruptcy while under Obama administration ownership and control in spring 2009, in large part, because it was outcompeted by Toyota. The Obama administration is also a significant minority shareholder in Chrysler, another failed automobile manufacturer that was placed into Chapter 11 bankruptcy while under the control of President Obama’s administration in April 2009.
Well, the situation is a little more sinister even that that, as the breakdown of ownership in Government Motors and Chrysler indicates. In the case of GM, the US government owns 61 per cent of company stock, the United Auto Workers Union (UAW) owns 17.5 per cent through its retirees’ health-care trust, the Canadian government owns 11.7 per cent, and the poor bondholders from the old GM, whose priority as preferred creditors was expropriated by the UAW, own the remaining 9.8 per cent.
In the case of Chrysler LLC, Fiat SpA owns 35 per cent of company stock, the US government holds 8 per cent of the company’s stock, while the old company’s largely expropriated secured lenders own a derisory residual 2 per cent. The United Auto Workers Union, an unsecured creditor of the old company, that should have received no stock in its successor, is the majority stockholder, with effective control over the company, owning 55 per cent of the company’s stock.
Well, Dear Readers, the plot against Toyota surely thickens. Not only is Mr. Toyoda berated, with poor grammar, by Ray Lahood, on behalf of the Obama administration, itself a significant shareholder in two of his company’s three major US rivals. He also suffers verbal abuse from members of two congressional committees that are largely bought and paid for by the UAW. Follow-the-money is always the safest guideline to understanding congressional posturing, especially when such posturing takes a threatening tone. Such is the humbling, but not not the humiliating experience of Mr. Toyoda during his time served on Capitol Hill. Such is the humbug that permeates the corridors of Capitol Hill.
Toyota has long been a thorn in the flesh of the UAW. For decades, Toyota has resisted attempts by the UAW to unionize its workforce. It has done so by locating its production plants in the ‘right to work’ states of Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky and Mississippi, by creating excellent working conditions in its plants, and by offering job security through the satisfaction of consumer demands for safe, high-quality, and relatively inexpensive motor cars. By its example, it has demonstrated to those employed by GM, Chrysler and Ford, that job security does not spring from restrictive, productivity-lowering union practices, and that high wages are not secured by excessively high wage and benefits packages negotiated under the threat of disruptive strike action.
The UAW is a major player in congressional politics, a powerful special interest doling out campaign contributions to those who can deliver the Michigan bacon. UAW monies have bought out 19 of 36 Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. UAW monies have bought out 12 of 25 Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee (The Washington Examiner, February 25, 2010). It is no wonder – no wonder at all- – that the gracious Mr. Toyoda was received with such an absence of grace by those two committees on Wednesday and Thursday of this week.
Letters of support for Toyota have been filed by the Governors of the States of Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky and Mississippi. Those letters do not demonstrate any hostility to the Rising Sun. But then, those letters were not written by Princes of Darkness. Those letters were written by far-sighted Governors, speaking out on behalf of the citizens of their States. They were not penned from inkpots stuffed with UAW dollars.
By the way, a recent Zogby poll found that 64 per cent of those surveyed considered Toyotas, on average, to be safer than (18 per cent) or equally safe as (47 per cent) other vehicles. One can only wonder how that poll data might change following the two days of congressional hearings. Interestingly, no such hearing has been called to deal with the many vehicle recalls by Ford, GM and Chrysler in recent years. Dear Readers, can you speculate why that dog has not barked in the darkness of the Washington night?