Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What In The Hell Happened to Toyota?

It seems lately that Toyota just can't catch a break. From cars that won't stop to cars that won't steer Toyota seems to have its hands full. They are subject to at least two congressional investigations with more doom and gloom waiting in the wings.

The following excerpt is from an Associated Press article:
WASHINGTON – In public, Toyota is running apologetic TV ads and vowing to win back customers' trust. Behind the scenes, the besieged carmaker is trying to learn all it can about congressional investigations, maybe even steer them if it can.

It's part of an all-out drive by the world's biggest auto manufacturer to redeem its once unassailable brand — hit anew on Tuesday as Toyota's global recall ballooned to 8.5 million cars and trucks. The day's safety recall of 440,000 of its flagship Prius and other hybrids, plus a Tokyo news conference where the company's president read a statement in English pledging to "regain the confidence of our customers," underscored a determination to keep buyers' faith from sinking to unrecoverable depths.

In Washington, facing congressional inquiries and government investigations, Toyota through its lawyers and lobbyists is working full-speed to salvage its reputation. The confidential strategy — Toyota will say little publicly about its efforts — includes efforts to sway upcoming hearings on Capitol Hill and is based on experiences by companies that have survived similar consumer and political crises — and those that haven't.
Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich, said Toyota representatives visited his offices seeking to learn all they could.
"They're probing us. 'What are you going to ask us, where are you going with this whole thing?'" said Stupak, who is chairman of a House subcommittee looking into Toyota's problems.

Toyota, which reported spending more than $4 million on lobbying last year, declined to discuss details of its plans. The company has "beefed up our team" by hiring additional lobbyists, lawyers and public relations experts to "work with regulators and lawmakers collaboratively towards a successful recall effort, ensuring proper, diligent compliance," spokeswoman Cindy Knight said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

Rough headlines for Toyota continued Tuesday. In other developments:

_State Farm, the largest U.S. auto insurer, said it had informed federal regulators late in 2007 about growing reports of unexpected acceleration in Toyotas. That disclosure raised new questions about whether the government missed clues about problems. Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Stupak wrote insurance executives on Tuesday seeking information on any warnings they may have provided the government about unintended acceleration in Toyotas.

_Congressional investigators cited growing evidence that not all the causes of Toyota's acceleration problems have been identified. A staff memo from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which had planned an oversight hearing for Wednesday, said there was substantial evidence that remedies such as redesigned floor mats have failed to solve problems. The hearing was postponed until Feb. 24 due to snow in Washington.

_Federal safety officials said they were examining complaints from Toyota Corolla owners about steering problems.

Toyota faces at least two congressional hearings besides Stupak's, including the one delayed by snow. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and a longtime supporter of Toyota, said his panel will hold a hearing on March 2 after the two by the House.
Their focus: floor mats that get caught under accelerators, sticky gas pedals and brake problems, and what the company and federal regulators knew about them.

Professionals who have waged major damage-control struggles say the best strategy for Toyota mixes apology, openness, details about a specific fix — plus a little help from friends on Capitol Hill. In recent days, American TV viewers have seen ads in which a soft-spoken announcer talks about Toyota's dedication to safety and its customers.

There is little doubt that Toyota has dropped the ball here. At times they seemed to be dragging along refusing to admit that there was a problem(s). One has to wonder though if the intensified Congessional action may not be motivated by political self-interest. 

It may be that the Congress is acting in the nation's best interest ...pause for uncontrollable laughter... or it may be that they are protecting the unprecedented monetary and political investments they made in General Motors. With Toyota on its heels and a growing distrust of their product it seems that American auto manufacturers are poised for a comeback. 

It may be that given the increasing unpopularity of President Obama's agenda a distraction is needed to redirect America's anger. In that respect Toyota's misfortunes could not have come at a better time. 

Regardless of the motivation it is a worthy endeavor to investigate these "malfunctions". American lives are at stake and to do otherwise would be "dereliction of duty" on the part of lawmakers.  

For those who own or drive Toyota products the following list of recalled vehicles comes from Toyota's website: 

Which models are involved in the sticking accelerator pedal recall/stop sale?
Toyota’s accelerator pedal recall and suspension of sales is confined to the following Toyota Division vehicles:

• Certain 2009-2010 RAV4*,
• Certain 2009-2010 Corolla*,
• 2009-2010 Matrix,
• 2005-2010 Avalon,
• Certain 2007-2010 Camry*,
• Certain 2010 Highlander*,
• 2007-2010 Tundra,
• 2008-2010 Sequoia
Which models are involved in the floor mat pedal entrapment recall?
2007 - 2010 Camry
2005 - 2010 Avalon
2004 - 2009 Prius
2005 - 2010 Tacoma
2007 - 2010 Tundra
2008 - 2010 Highlander
2009 - 2010 Corolla
2009 - 2010 Venza
2009 - 2010 Matrix
Lexus2006 - 2010 IS 250
2006 - 2010 IS 350
2007 - 2010 ES 350

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Harrison said...

We are talking millions and millions of cars here. I am still not totally convinced how much of this was Toyota's fault, think Audi in the 80s, versus someone who wanted to take down the biggest fish.

Michael Avitabile said...

I don't know what that top one says, but we've gone international!

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