Dem to Toyota leader: Where’s the remorse?

Posted: 10:42 a.m. Feb. 24, 2010 | Updated: 5:55 p.m. today

Dem to Toyota leader: Where’s the remorse?

BY JUSTIN HYDE
FREE PRESS WASHINGTON STAFF

 

The Free Press is live blogging today’s U.S. House Oversight hearing into Toyota’s recalls that features Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda among others.

 
 

Ohio dem rips into Toyoda’s apologies

5:50 p.m. | Akio Toyoda ended his testimony a few minutes ago, but not before Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, tore into his apologies for what she called "sudden death acceleration."

"I am not satisfied with your testimony," she said. "I do not feel it reflects sufficient remorse for those who have died, and I do not think you have accurately reflected the large number of complaints that have been filed for more than a decade."

"Where is the remorse?"

Waving a copy of "The Toyota Way," the seminal book about the company’s culture, Kaptur questioned how Toyota’s focus on quality squared with evidence the company had ignored thousands of sudden acceleration complaints for years. She brings up the death of a Flint woman in a crash believed to be caused by sudden acceleration.

"Do you know how many people died in Japan because of what your company did?" Kaptur asks.

Toyoda reiterated his sorrow.

"I feel deeply sorry for those people who lost their lives or were injured in traffic accidents, especially those in our cars, and I extend condolences to them from the bottom of my heart," he said.

 

Toyota’s reaction time questioned

4:40 p.m. | Akio Toyoda delivered another apology to people hurt by Toyotas in sudden acceleration accidents. His lieutenant provided most of the other information revealed so far by the committee.

"I extend my condolences from the deepest part of my heart” to those hurt, Toyoda said.

But the apologies went only so far with lawmakers.

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., pressed the Toyota executives on why they didn’t spot the problems sooner. Toyoda’s answer that the automaker had trouble reproducing many of the complaints of sudden acceleration.

“Your answer, which goes to we’ll see if this is duplicated, is in some ways very troublesome. Because that is such a serious problem, because once that is reported one time, you have a huge problem on your hands.”

Norton also asked a series of questions as to whether Toyota would recall her Camry Hybrid.

“Is there any chance the Camry Hybrid will be recalled for any reason?”

Top U.S. executive Yoshimi Inaba told her, “You’ll be very safe” driving the vehicle, and tried to correct her statement that it was a foreign model.

“You are driving an American car,” Inaba said, adding that the “vast majority” of its parts are built in the United States.

“It’s got Mr. Toyoda’s name on it,” Norton replied. “You’re not claiming it anymore?”

According to federal data, 45% of the Camry Hybrid’s parts by value are made in the United States or Canada. The rest come from somewhere else.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, had sharper criticism of Toyota’s missteps.

“The problem is not that you were moving too fast, but moving too slow,” Kucinich said, “too slow to recognize the material defects that were putting lives at risk.”

“Nothing costs Toyota more than the loss of a customer,” Inaba said. “We are as eager as anybody else to know if there’s a problem.”

And Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, brought up the same question he had for Ray LaHood about whether the Obama administration was favoring GM by cracking down on Toyota.

“Do you believe you’re being treated the same as other manufacturers in the United States of America?” Chaffetz asked Toyoda.

“Yes, I believe so,” Toyoda said.

Document about meeting scrutinized

3:41 p.m. | Toyota’s first tough question arrives bluntly.

“I’m embarrassed for you, sir,” said Rep. John Mica, a Florida Republican, tells Yoshimi Inaba.

“This is one of the most embarrassing documents I’ve ever seen.”

Mica is holding a copy of the minutes of the July 2009 meeting where U.S. staffers hailed the company talking down several recalls, including the 2007 floor mat recall where they claimed to have saved $100 million.

“How could you possibly put in writing this as ‘wins for safety’ under Toyota. … I think there’s a great injustice served in this,” Mica said.

Inaba told the committee he didn’t recall the meeting, and that the presentation was part of a reorientation plan after he took over as head of Toyota’s U.S. operations.

“It’s so inconsistent with the guiding principles of Toyota and my feelings,” Inaba said. He later added, “I had very little knowledge of it.”

Akio Toyoda, speaking through a translator, also says “the substance and the content” of the memo do not reflect Toyota’s principles.

Toyoda also defends the company’s recalls, saying he’s “absolutely confident there is no problem with design” of the electronic throttle controls in Toyota vehicles.

“Whenever a problem occurs, Toyota addresses those problems in a sincere manner,” he said.

Rep. Paul Kanjorski, D-Penn., told Toyoda that he could wear his appearance as a “badge of honor,” but said Toyota’s lag in releasing information had another side effect.

“I think you are making the best argument in the world … for our present tort system,” Kanjorski said.

Toyoda begins testimony

2:30 p.m. | After more than three hours of testimony from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Akio Toyota raises his right hand and prepares to testify to the House Oversight committee.

Surrounded by a massive throng of cameras, Akio took his seat next to Toyota’s top U.S. executive Yoshimi Inaba and an interpreter.

Speaking in English, Toyoda begins delivering his prepared remarks released on Tuesday by the committee.

"I myself, as well as Toyota, am not perfect. At times, we do find defects," he said. "But in such situations, we always stop, strive to understand the problem, and make changes to improve further."

Before the hearing, Toyoda met with the family of the victims in the Santee, Calif., crash.

Are GM, Toyota being handled differently?

1:10 p.m. | The Obama administration’s 60% stake in General Motors became a part of the Toyota hearing today.

Several Republicans questioned whether NHTSA and the administration were being fair with the automaker given its financial interest in GM.

“This recall is likely to cost Toyota untold billions of dollars,” said Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. “I don’t think it’s out of line to question, or at least caution, that the Department of Transportation and NHTSA be extremely careful with how they accept and deal with complaints that come in to assure that government isn’t taking sides in an area where it has a big investment.”

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, asked U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood: “Do you honestly believe Toyota is being held to exactly the same standard as General Motors and everybody else?”

“Absolutely, 100%,” LaHood said.

Chaffetz also asked whether the UAW had been in contact with NHTSA.

“Absolutely not,” said LaHood.

Chaffetz and Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., compared NHTSA’s handing of Toyota’s recalls to a defect probe involving Chevrolet Cobalts that had generated several hundred complaints.

“Are we doing this investigation and this slow road because General Motors is not willing to do what Toyota is…Wouldn’t it save us money if General Motors would do what Toyota did?"

“Our job is to do investigations,” LaHood said. “If we get cooperation, we get it. If we can’t, we use every tool in our toolbox.”

LaHood: Defective Toyotas should be taken to dealers

11:59 a.m. | U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says recalled Toyotas "are not safe."

Earlier this month, in a different congressional hearing, LaHood said that owners of recalled Toyotas should stop driving their vehicles until they are fixed.

Given that the recalls of 5.6 million models for sudden acceleration may take months to complete, the words set off a furor. Within an hour, LaHood pulled back, saying owners should call their dealers.

Today, in response to a question from Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., LaHood said the defective Toyotas listed on the NHTSA Web site need "to go back to the dealer to be fixed. We’ve determined those are not safe."

LaHood said while the recalls involved floor mats and sticking pedals, NHTSA was looking at electronic controls, and told Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, that the agency had the technical skills needed to analyze the problem.

Criticism includes NHTSA

11:32 a.m. | At the start of the hearing, the Democratic chairman and Republican ranking member of the House Oversight committee sound off from the same script.

Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., addressed the way Toyota and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration flubbed worries of sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles.

“The way these complaints were handled indicates problems at both NHTSA and Toyota,” he said.

Towns criticized Toyota not just for being slow to tackle sudden acceleration but other problems, such as a defect in the braking software of 2010 Prius models that the company fixed in production before revealing to regulators.

“If the spotlight had not already been shining brightly on Toyota, would the public have ever been told?” Towns asked.

He also noted that there are 39 deaths attributed to sudden acceleration in the government’s database, compared with 27 attributed to the Ford Pinto defects of the 1970s.

“In short, if the Camry and the Prius were airplanes, they would be grounded,” Towns said.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., compared the Toyota situation with other high-profile recalls of the past, including the Tylenol recall of 1982. He said those companies were able to learn from their mistakes and prosper as great companies.

“We will be asking Akio Toyoda whether they were a good company or a great company,” Issa said.

Issa was also critical of NHTSA for not having readily accessible data about recalls and issues in other countries.

“How could NHTSA, in this modern age when I can Google Secretary LaHood and find his picture from all over the world – how is it that NHTSA does not formally have a system to know about every report?” Issa asked. “NHTSA is not prepared to proactively act.”

Ray LaHood testifies now.

Witness list changes

10:43 a.m. | Even before the hearing begins, the lineup for the hearing changes at the last minute as the Obama administration withdraws National Highway Traffic Safety Administration chief David Strickland from the witness list.
 

The administration told the committee that only Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood would be testifying for the agency. The committee had set out a name plate for Strickland at the hearing table before taking it back.
 

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said Strickland’s absence would likely require another hearing to delve into more technical information about NHTSA’s practices.
 

LaHood will speak first, followed by Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda and Toyota’s U.S. chief Yoshimi Inaba. The third panel will include Fe Lastrella, the mother of two of the Santee, Calif., crash victims and grandmother of a third. It will also feature Kevin Haggerty, a New Jersey man who was able to drive his 2007 Toyota Avalon to a dealership while it was having sudden acceleration. The dealership repaired the vehicle, but Toyota has said little about the case.
 

Haggerty has since taken the offer of a local dealer to swap the ’07 Avalon for a new 2010 Hyundai Sonata.

 

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