Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano today took the unusual step of publicly voicing the Japanese government’s satisfaction with the U.S. government’s findings that Toyota’s electronic throttle control system is free of glitches, ghosts and malfunctions. It was a not so subtle reminder that politics weighed heavily in Toyota’s SUA scandal.
On Tuesday, a study by NASA, commissioned by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, had exonerated the Toyota ECU that had been fingered by the media and politicians as the source of all SUA evil.
”It is extremely good that it was made clear that Toyota’s system is not the reason (behind the acceleration cases),” Edano told a news conference, witnessed by The Nikkei.
It is widely believed on both sides of the Pacific that Toyota was made an example of in order to demonstrate to a Japanese administration unpopular with the American in particular, and to the world in general, what can happen to a nice company if a country doesn’t play ball according to American rules.
It came as no surprise that the public hounding of Toyota was ratcheted down immediately after Japan’s Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama resigned in June 2010. He had been elected on a platform of removing U.S. Marine air units off the strategically important Okinawa islands.
What happened shortly after the congressional tribunals in Washington? In May last year, Hatoyama announced that ridding Okinawa of U.S. troops might not be possible. To make sure that he did not forget, LaHood visited Japan 4 days later and made hints of further fines against Toyota (which came.)
Hatoyama had to go, and that’s what he did.
What a sudden change!
Two weeks after Hatoyama had resigned on June 2, 2010, the NHTSA recalled large parts of the recall database which had been used as a virtual killing field before. A few weeks later, the NHTSA changed its position and started to mention possible driver error.
Soon, a supposedly suppressed report by the NHTSA that named driver error as the cause was leaked. In October, NHTSA Chief David Strickland suddenly praised Toyota, extolled a “change in how Toyota approaches defects” and said that “Toyota really is taking safety much more seriously than they did before I took office.”
Things became quiet around Toyota, LaHood picked another enemy: Text messages.
Tuesday’s NASA findings are nothing else than the final act of a drama that had long ended.
It’s the administration’s peace with honor with Japan.
The troops are still in Okinawa. The auto industry is humming again. A whitewashed and prettied-up GM has been successfully floated at the stock exchange. Toyota had to sacrifice market share in the U.S. GM is selling cars again and has come within spitting distance of Toyota in the World Championship of Automobile Production. All signs point to GM becoming the world leader again this year.
Before you start typing snide remarks, read this:
For more than 25 years, I was married into a high powered Washington military family. My former father in law was top brass. He taught me three things: Don’t believe in wide conspiracies. Don’t believe in coincidences. Battles are won by exploiting the weakness of the enemy.
The administration did not make up the SUA reports. The CIA did not sabotage a Lexus to send Mark Saylor and three of his family to their death. Brian Ross is not on the payroll of the UAW. This is not a Clancy novel.
In this game, you don’t make things up. (Not unless you are really hard pressed and you absolutely must invade Iraq.)
Politics is the art of spin. You wait for something to happen.
If politically expedient, you ignore it. Such as the countless SUA cases that had been filed over the years, involving just about any brand’s car.
If it fits your plans, you take the event, you blow it out of proportion, you put a drop of blood in the water and let the sharks do the dirty work for you. If it gets out of hand, you can always blame the sharks.
William Safire once said: ”Spin is what a pitcher does when he throws a curveball. The English on the ball causes it to appear to be going in a slightly different direction than it actually is.” I know a little about spin. In more than 35 years of producing propaganda for the world’s third largest automaker, I spun my fair share of industrial strength yarn.
Timing is an important part of spin. When the Toyota Unintended Acceleration Scandal of 2010 unfolded into a full scale frenzy, America, and especially the American car industry was deeply humiliated. Two of the Detroit 3 had declared bankruptcy. One was hanging on for dear life. The government found itself in the car business, and business was bad. U.S. car sales were at their lowest level in 27 years. For the first time since anyone could remember, the U.S. had to give up the title largest car market to someone else. To add insult to industry, that someone was China, a country we thought held the world record in bicycles. Jobs were lost. Houses were foreclosed.
What do you do in such a situation? You use a tool that had proven its usefulness over thousands of years: The enemy abroad.