Akio Toyoda is getting a crash course in cross-cultural studies, while he is preparing for his appearance on The Hill this coming Wednesday. Toyota already uncovered the time-tested Washington axiom: “We will fight it tooth and nail, but if we can’t stop it, we might as well dress for it.”
Saturday morning’s Nikkei [sub] greets its readers with the message that “Akio Toyoda’s appearance before Congress on Wednesday could be a chance for the embattled automaker to win back consumer trust in the U.S.”
Hedging a risky bet, the Nikkei adds: “But a poor performance could further undermine its reputation.” To avoid the latter, Toyoda is preparing to counter a three-pronged attack.
Prong #1: What did Toyota know and when did they know it? According to a document submitted by Toyota to the NHTSA, Toyota followed up on customer complaints that accelerator pedals do not return to the idle position smoothly in 2007, but Toyota determined that it wasn’t a safety issue. Some committee members will likely challenge Toyota’s conclusion.
Prong #2: Did Toyota take vigorous and swift action? Or did they try to hide defects and sweep customer complaints under the (loose) carpet, as some contend? The Nikkei thinks Toyoda will repeat last Wednesday’s statement that Toyota “never covers things up or tries to escape from its responsibility.”
Prong #3: Was/is there a defect in the electronic control system that causes the sudden acceleration? Toyoda is expected to reiterate the conclusions of a third-party investigation, which cleared the on-board computer of any problems.
Let’s hope Toyoda is preparing defenses against a panoply of other prongs, because they will be there. maybe the leak is intentional, and the disclosure of their defenses is here to lure the attacker into belief that Toyota is ill prepared for other pincer movements that use the tactical high ground of Capitol Hill
The other hope for Toyoda is that the barbecue party will get tired of a grilling that is degraded to slow burn by an interpreter, and that Toyota-friendly esteemed members of the committee will turn on Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. They will also be at the hearing. What did the NHTSA know and when did they know it? What did they do? What about the supposed 34 dead, and where are they buried? LaHood is known to sometimes suffer from verbal diarrhea: Sound bites dog!
Speaking of bodily functions, La Hood could counter that he had to muck out an Augeas stable from the Bush administration, where massive amounts of dung had been produced. Strickland will nod furiously, and the partisan infighting will be on. This has historical precedent. Twice, a typhoon had saved Japan from an invasion by the Mongol hordes. Back to bodily functions, Toyoda will most likely stop by the next Shinto shrine before departure and pray for a lot of wind.
The gods already announced that they are inclined to listen to his prayer: “About 20 people aboard a U.S. passenger aircraft were injured Saturday after it ran into turbulence while it was traveling from Washington D.C. to Narita,” reports the Nikkei this evening. The airliner had departed from Dulles International Airport at around 2:40 a.m. Saturday, Japan time. ‘Many passengers were tossed from their seats, bumping into the ceiling.”