Staff from the House Energy and Commerce Committee met with representatives from Toyota yesterday, reports Automotive News [sub], as Congress wades into the Toyota recall debacle. According to a letter from the Energy and Commerce Committee to NHTSA administrator David Strickland and Toyota North America Boss Yoshimi Inaba [letters available in PDF format here], the discussions with Toyota were characterized as “helpful,” but that “it left important questions unanswered, including when Toyota learned about this serious safety defect and what actions the company took to investigate and resolve the hazard.” Hearings have been scheduled for February 25, and the Committee’s letter to Inaba requests disclosure of all internal communication related to to the production shutdown, among other company documents.
Meanwhile, on the regulatory front, NHTSA spokesfolks tell BusinessWeek that “NHTSA’s been constantly monitoring the situation and investigating the issue of Toyotas and sudden acceleration, even back to 2007 when they had the other recall on floor mats.” Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood adds that he has “no criticism of Toyota on this. They followed the law, and they did what they’re supposed to do.” “I don’t know of another time a car manufacturer has stepped up the way Toyota has,” LaHood reportedly told Bloomberg. “NHTSA did exactly what it should’ve done, meet with Toyota and discuss this.”
The disconnect between the response from regulators and the response from congress speaks volumes about the impact of this recall. Though it hardly indicates anything like criminal behavior on Toyota’s fault, the shock of the reigning quality champ taking one on the chin has been a catalyst for the downtrodden domestic automakers (and their congressional investors/allies) to get as much mileage out of the debacle as possible. After all, there’s no downside to hauling Toyota’s bosses in front of a committee: the congresscritters get populist “looking after the consumer” cred, while simultaneously boosting the relative value of the government’s GM investment. Let the spectacle begin!