Monthly Archives: February 2010

Mr. Toyoda Goes To Washington

They Should’a Had Me There (But They Didn’t)

The Toyota hearings happened in Washington DC where they ‘summoned’ Akio Toyoda to front for the company that bears his family name.

In his opening remarks, Toyoda said that “I love cars as much as anyone” and that he is a “trained test driver” able to expertly evaluate cars. He said the company’s mottoes have always been “Safety, quality and quantity” but during the past decade of the company’s rapid growth, “these got confused”. He promised a return to the basics.

In Japan, when there are product safety or quality problems, the head of the company will take full responsibility and apologize (which Toyoda did several times today) and that’s the end of it. The company moves on, consumers make their decisions about the product, but it’s almost unheard of for authorities to dig into the company until some cover-up or mistake or purposeful action which caused the problem is found.

A questioner revealed during the hearing that NY’s Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has brokered a deal where Toyota dealers will go to owners’ homes to pick-up recalled cars and trucks, fix them and deliver them back to the owner, with Toyota reimbursing the owner for any rental or train or taxi costs incurred while the car was out of service. When Inaba and Toyota were asked if this program will be made national, it was obvious either they were avoiding the question or knew absolutely nothing about it (hard to believe).

When one member tried to find out if the new brake override software will be installed in all affected Toyota vehicles in the US, Toyoda just said, “I don’t know”.

When another representative talked about how much she likes her Toyota Camry hybrid but doesn’t trust it now, Inaba jumped with, “You have an American car!”

Inaba was just trying to promote the fact that Toyota employs 200,000 people in the US (which Toyoda mentioned twice in the first minute of his opening statement) but the exchange was terribly confused and became hostile.

Many members did not like the answers they got today, and had no reluctance telling Toyoda and Inaba just that. One member, trying to be friendly, jokingly told Toyoda, “You can brag about this at home. You’ve been questioned by a congressional committee!”, but it was obvious Toyoda didn’t know what to make of that statement.

And so it goes, and so it went.

For one, as a long-time working interpreter between Japan and the Anglo-phone world, I wished I was there to pinch hit for these poor guys, because being bi-lingual and bi-cultural, I would have had a few things to say to these American law makers.

Number 1 on my list would have been that the US government is now a major shareholder of Toyota’s rivals, GM, and Chrysler. Whether they like it or not, they are today; and as such they are in a conflict of interest if they are trying to present themselves as on some kind of higher moral ground. Quite frankly, from an outside third party, this all looks like an attempt by the US government to scare people out of Toyotas and into GM and Chryslers. Clearly this conflict of interest leads Toyota to believe this is a kangaroo court.

Number 2 on my list is that if they really thought the Toyota handling of the crisis was as lax as they claim to believe, then they should by all means explain what exactly are the laws in America that cover such things. The recall of vehicles by any company actually happens as a voluntary action to fix something. If indeed Toyota had not done any recalls, then there might be a case for insinuating there was something criminal. Seeing that Toyota is recalling vehicles voluntarily, which part of this act shows Toyota *isn’t* taking responsibility for its products?

Number 3 on the list would be, at which point does the US Government require legislation and regulation to do with recalls that *it* would find satisfactory? Without such guidelines – and they do not exist – isn’t it the case that the utter lack of regulation is to blame? And seeing that there isn’t and blame-throwing is the game, isn’t the Senate indulging in a bit of grandstanding at Toyota’s reputation’s expense? How does the US Government propose to repay damages?  

Number 4 on my list would be the fact that Toyota has built factories in the USA and used parts in the USA. If it’s the Senate’s collective wisdom to say that this has been unwelcome, and clearly,  the tone of questioning in the room strongly suggests that it is, then perhaps Toyota were gravely mistake in the American system of capitalism. Perhaps the US government has two sets of rules, one for companies they feel are domestic, and another for foreign companies that found factories. Is Toyota to understand that the US Government in practice endorses this double standard, without writing it down? Isn’t this how racism and sexism works in America? How can Toyota not be sure that the US government isn’t targeting Toyota not because our vehicles are unsafe but because it helps you buy votes to demonise the Japanese as you have done in your history so often?

Number 5 on my list would be how much campaign contribution has been paid into their respective Senators’ coffers by GM and Chrysler and Ford? And just how much would it take for the senators to back off and apply the separate domestic rule? Because people at Toyota and in Japan in general believe that this whole Senate hearing is a scapegoating process that can only help Toyota’s rivals in the market place. What assurances can you give Toyota that your  individual campaign funding does not include and has never included monies from GM, Chrysler and Ford?

Number 6 would be to lay down the implicit threat of shutting American factories. If Toyota is so unwelcome in the American market place, it is willing to move its factories to Canada or Mexico – countries under the NAFTA agreement – and close those factories and with them the 200,000 direct jobs. Toyota understands that the USA has a 10% unemployment rate, so maybe we won’t find growth in this country any more. Certainly by the un-conciliatory tone of this hearing leads us to believe we should do this as soon as possible.

But no, none of this got mentioned. So I’m writing it here instead and I doubt anybody in Japan’s going to read it, and I sure as hell won’t be asked to be the interpreter for Toyota, so that’s that. All in all, I strongly felt I should’ve been there, even though I have absolutely nothing to do with Toyota; which, I really don’t.

The whole thing pisses me off endless. It’s a good thing I’m not the Governor of the Bank of Japan, Toshihiko Fukui, because I’d be busily dumping US treasury bonds as fast as I can.

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