Tomorrow the Senate will be taking its shot at the Toyota scandal, with hearings scheduled before the Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation. Giving testimony will be three Toyota executives including Yoshimi Inaba, NHTSA Administrator David Strickland and Clarence Ditlow of the Ralph Nader-founded Center for Auto Safety. Conspicuously absent from the list is Dimitrios Biller, the former Toyota lawyer who claims that Toyota hid documents related to vehicle design from discovery in several suits against the automaker. The House Oversight Committee has reviewed a number of Toyota communications courtesy of Biller, and a letter from chairman Ed Towns (D-NY) demands that Toyota answer Biller’s charges [Towns' letter and Biller documents in PDF format here, courtesy of DetNews]. By invoking Biller’s charges, Towns has dragged yet another witness into the fray whose story raises more questions than it answers [one of Biller's several suits against Toyota can be found here.] And yet, probably because of his complex backstory] there are no plans for Biller to testify under oath before congress. Should he, or does his testimony just cloud the picture even further?
A quiet Sunday. Time to fire up Google and put in “Toyota AND [cause OR reason].” We come up with ample explanations why Toyota is not called Toyoda. Or why Peiping turned into Peking, and then into Beijing. What about the causes of sudden acceleration? Let’s see what we find. (If you have other things to do on a Sunday: We find a lot of questions and no answers.) (Read More…)
No politician worthy of your vote will pass up on the chance of publicly bashing the heads of foreign corporate types with deep pockets. And so, the Senate will convene its Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation next Tuesday. They will repeat this week’s grilling until perfectly good Kobe steak is well done and reduced to dog food.
Tuesday’s cast will consist of familiar faces: Ray LaHood will again “go into the weeds” and hold Toyota’s “feet to the fire” until all cars – well, at least those of Toyota, will be “100 percent safe.”
Smooth Yoshimi Inaba, Prez. of Toyota Motor North America will bring his baritone to bear. The congress casting crew was obviously dissatisfied with Akio Toyoda playing the role of the duplicitous villain. He will not be called and can (phew…) go home to Toyota City. (Read More…)
One of the most important lessons to come out of the last two days of congressional hearings on the Toyota recalls is that blaming individuals for unintended acceleration is too tough a task for our elected representatives. And yet the more we learn, the more necessary it seems to take human error into account when dealing with unintended acceleration. Nothing illustrates this quite like the case of the very first witness to give testimony before congress. Rhonda Smith of Sevierville, Tn told the House Energy Committee, under oath, that her Lexus ES350 became “possessed” and that its brakes and transmission failed to respond at precisely the moment that the car accelerated out of control. “Shame on you, Toyota, for being so greedy,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes. But it turns out that the shame belongs almost entirely with Ms Smith.
The Wall Street Journal [sub] [via Jalopnik] reports that, despite her traumatic and inexplicable experience, Ms Smith sold her dangerous, out-of-control ES350 to another family, which has since put 27,000 trouble-free miles on the vehicle (according to just-auto [sub], Toyota has since taken possession of the vehicle). Which means she either lied under oath, or displayed a disregard for the safety of others that puts Toyota’s missteps into stunning context. Or both. In any case, her behavior adds to our growing suspicion that the vacuous, disingenuous, and self-serving congressional hearings have been the best thing to happen to Toyota PR since the recalls began. Shame on you, Rhonda Smith, shame on you.
There is widespread public concern regarding reports of sudden unintended acceleration in Toyota motor vehicles. There appears to be growing public confusion regarding which vehicles may be affected and how people should respond. In short, the public is unsure as to what exactly the problem is, whether it is safe to drive their cars, or what they should do about it. To help clarify this situation, I am inviting you to testify…
House Oversight Committee Chair Edolphus Towns invites Akio Toyoda down to DC for an evening of under-oath testimony and light refreshments. According to the NY Times, Toyoda has said he “would consider” dancing the Potomac two-step “if he receives a formal invitation, which none of the committees have issued.” Consider yourself officially invited, Mr Toyoda. We’ll start making the popcorn.
Toyota’s president Akio Toyoda was already getting ready to “visit the United States over massive recalls of its vehicles,” reported the Nikkei [sub]. Japan’s transport minister Seiji Maehara told U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos that Toyoda would be dispatched to DC. There, he would be ready to “explain the recall problems to the U.S. Congress if asked.” (Read More…)
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will have to wait two more weeks to gets its claws into Toyota, as heavy weather has postponed hearings scheduled for today until the 24th. But don’t expect the delay take any of the pressure of Toyota: lawmakers are taking the extra time to widen their investigations. Automotive News [sub] reports that House Energy Committee Chair Rep Henry Waxman (D-CA) has solicited documents from a number of auto insurers after it was revealed that State Farm had warned the NHTSA of possible unintended acceleration in Toyotas as early as 2007. The Energy Committee has scheduled hearings for the 25th.
Meanwhile, Reuters has published one of the most comprehensive pieces we’ve seen yet on Toyota’s “epic breakdown.” Don’t miss it.
Toyota heads up to Capital Hill tomorrow to face the ire of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in a hearing that’s been subtly named “Toyota Gas Pedals: Is the Public at Risk?” A memo by committee staff [via the WSJ] sets a paranoid tone for the hearing, as the NHTSA investigation widens beyond gas pedals alone:
Attention is now being focused on the electronic throttle control system (ETC) to determine whether sudden acceleration may be attributable to a software design problem or perhaps to electromagnetic interference. The committee staff found numerous complaints made to NHTSA describing sudden acceleration that was not caused by either floor mats or sticky pedals.
Toyota’s Yoshi Inaba will face the brunt of the questioning, although Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and NHTSA administrator David Strickland will surely face questions about their oversight of Toyota (or lack thereof).
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.