This was a rough night and day for Akio Toyoda, chief of the fishtailing Toyota. At around midnight, Tokyo time, the news reached Toyoda-sama that the Honorable Edolphus Towns (D., N.Y.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, had formally invited him for a visit on the hill.
This had followed a Japanese version of the “he loves me – he loves me not – he loves me.” It was made even more interesting by the botanical truism that the cherry blossom only has five petals to pick. Here, the chronicle of the deflowering …
First, Japan’s Transportation Minister Seiji Maehara was sure (hint, hint) that Toyoda would go to Washington to explain himself. Toyoda didn’t think so. 5 days later, Toyoda supposedly was already on a plane to Washington. Then he delayed. Last Wednesday, Toyoda said to the members of the 4th Estate that he’d definitely won’t go. A day later, yesterday, the official party line still was that Toyoda won’t go. “Mr Toyoda has declined an informal invitation to appear before lawmakers on a planned trip to the US next month,” reported the Financial Times.
Dave Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research, an union and industry-funded propaganda tool think-tank, gave the surely sincere advice that speaking through an interpreter would create “some real concern that might lead to a more embarrassing situation.” Throwing Cole’s advice in the wind, Toyoda changed his mind again. Later on Thursday, Toyoda said “he would consider testifying before Congress, if invited,” reported the Nikkei [sub] this morning.
Hearing that, Edolphus Towns immediately dispatched a formal RSVP to Toyota City. A subpoena would have been next.
This morning in Toyko, Toyoda said “ryo syo shimasita” (“I accept,” in a very formal way.) He “changed course and said he would appear before Congress next week,” as the Nikkei reported this Japanese morning.
In a statement, Toyoda said: “I have received Congressman Towns’ invitation to testify before the committee on Feb. 24 and I accept. I look forward to speaking directly with Congress and the American people.” He probably didn’t really mean the last sentence, but this is Japan and that is Congress.
Minutes later, Tokyo was rocked by a #6 earthquake by way of the bad news that the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee had subpoenaed Dimitrios Biller, along with all Toyota safety-related documents in his possession. The Nikkei provided as an aftershock that Biller’s attorney would gladly turn over the documents to Congress. A spokesman for California Rep. Darrell Issa said outright that the subpoena was intended to get around a preliminary injunction issued this month by an arbitrator that blocked Biller from disclosing possibly damning company documents.
When the Toyko market opened at 9, shares in Toyota Motor Corp. (7203) opened lower, recovered an hour later, and then sunk like a rock. The bad boys at the Nikkei thought this was a reaction to Toyoda possibly embarrassing himself in DC. We disagree and opine the market is worried about the Biller files. Or maybe we are wrong. The Toyota share started to drop in earnest when Toyoda announced at 11am that he “will speak with full sincerity.”
The official news that the Toyota plant in Burnaston, U.K. will be idled for two weeks beginning on March 29, made the Toyota stock succumb to Newton’s law even more. 20 percent of the plant’s workforce will be sent into early retirement. TTAC readers are not surprised. The Toyota share ended the day at 3300 yen, down 1.78 percent from Thursday, and pretty much in bottom territory for the year.
A rough Friday ended for Toyota with Transportation Minister Seiji Maehara slapping Toyoda around (in a polite way,) saying that it was regrettable that Toyota “had initially been evasive about whether its president would attend,” writes the Nikkei. ”I hope Toyota will respond with speed, care and responsibility,” the minister told reporters. He didn’t add “as I strongly recommended weeks ago, but nobody seemed to listen to me.”
Toyoda will most likely spend the weekend huddling with speech writers and lawyers, before it’s scionara, and off to Washington on Monday or Tuesday for the Wednesday hearing. Schmitt’s advice to Toyoda: If someone asks you whether you came by private jet, answer: “Sumimasen, JAL went bankrupt, and American wouldn’t accept my miles on such short noctice.”