Under Criticism, Obama Soft-Pedals LaHood's Toyota Criticism

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer
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under criticism obama soft pedals lahood s toyota criticism

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s get-tough quotes during the Toyota recall have generated significant backlash against an administration that is already knee-deep in the automotive industry. The governors of Mississippi, Kentucky, Indiana and Alabama (all of which host Toyota plants) laid into the NHTSA and Obama administration in a letter covered by the Detroit News. The governors argue:

Despite the federal government’s obvious conflict of interest because of its huge financial stake in some of Toyota’s competitors … it has spoken out against Toyota, including statements U.S. government officials have later been forced to retract… Toyota must put the safety of drivers first and foremost. However, they deserve a level and reasonable response from the federal government – one that is not tainted by the federal government’s financial interest in some of Toyota’s competitors

Strangely, the governors of Texas and West Virginia, where Toyotas are also assembled declined to sign onto the letter. Still, the attack isn’t being simply written off has home-state selfishness. One bellwether for the issue is the fact that the Detroit News looked past its own hometown interests and ran an editorial by the Cato Institute’s Daniel Ikensen, amplifying the governors’ critique. And sure enough, Obama decided to take the issue on head-on in an interview yesterday.

Obama’s response to allegations of a conflict of interest [via DetN] was typically measured and balanced:

Every automaker has an obligation when public safety is a concern to come forward quickly and decisively when problems are identified. We don’t yet know whether that happened with Toyota. That’s going to be investigated. Obviously, Toyota has been an extraordinary automaker for a very long time, and I suspect that they will continue to be, despite this recent glitch

Equally typically though, Obama refused to take the allegations on directly. He did, however, comment on the political implications of the auto industry bailout, telling BusinessWeek:

The irony is, is that on the left we are perceived as being in the pockets of big business; and then on the business side, we are perceived as being anti-business. GM and Chrysler aren’t out of the woods yet, but there is an enormous opportunity for us to rebuild a U.S. auto industry that, absent our intervention, might not have been there, at least with those two companies. [The auto bailout was] a very politically unpopular decision that was made that, from my vantage point, is pro-business.

Yes it was very pro-business, if you define business as “GM and Chrysler.” Whether propping up two zombie automakers was good for the long-term health and competitiveness of the US economy is far from a settled issue. Certainly Ford might question whether the bailout was strictly “pro-business” given its clear disadvantages vis-a-vis its bailed-out crosstown rivals. As might the evil foreign companies that employ tens of thousands of Americans building cars in states like Alabama and Indiana.

It’s a pity that Obama didn’t take the opportunity to more directly acknowledge the intense pressure to further support the American-owned automakers, as every policy decision he makes between now and the government’s divestment of its GM and Chrysler stakes will continue to be interpreted through the lense of the government’s financial interests in the auto industry.

Edward Niedermeyer
Edward Niedermeyer

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  • Potemkin Potemkin on Feb 13, 2010

    Suprarush. Toyota was forced into the recalls because of the negative publicity and their lawyers. Shutting down the plant, recalling the vehicles etc. is called due diligence which they will bring up in court when the $100s of millions in law suits starts. Toyota has caught Detroititis. They have become arrogant and until now thought they could bully their way out of any negative publicity.

  • Mikey Mikey on Feb 13, 2010

    Robert....Put this hourly retired dude down for an E vote. I know enough about the industry,and have read enough of you posts,to agree,that you do indeed,know what your talking about.

  • Marky S. I own the same C.C. XSE Hybrid AWD as in this article, but in Barcelona Red with the black roof. I love my car for its size, packaging, and the fact that it offers both AWD and Hybrid technology together. Visibility is impressive, as is its small turning circle. I consider the C.C. more of a "station wagon" by proportion, rather than an “SUV.” It is fun to drive, with zippy response and perky pick-up. It is a pleasant car to drive and ride in. It is not trying to be a “Butch Off-Roader”, or a cosseting “Luxury Cruiser.” Those are not its goals or purpose. The Corolla Cross XSE Hybrid AWD is a wonderful All-Purpose Car (O.K. – “SUV” if you must hear me say it!) with a combination of all the features it has at a reasonable price.
  • Ernesto Perez There's a line in the movie Armageddon where Bruce Willis says " is this the best idea NASA came up with?". Don't quote me. I'm asking is this the best idea NY came up with? What's next? Charging pedestrians to walk in certain parts of the city? Every year the price for everything gets more expensive and most of the services we pay for gets worse. Obviously more money is not the solution. What we need are better ideas, strategies and inventions. You want to charge drivers in the city - then put tolls on the free bridges like the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges. There's always a better way or product. It's just the idiots on top think they know best.
  • Carsofchaos The bike lanes aren't even close to carrying "more than the car lanes replaced". You clearly don't drive in Midtown Manhattan on a daily like I do.
  • Carsofchaos The problem with congestion, dear friends, is not the cars per se. I drive into the city daily and the problem is this:Your average street in the area used to be 4 lanes. Now it is a bus lane, a bike lane (now you're down to two lanes), then you have delivery trucks double parking, along with the Uber and Lyft drivers also double parking. So your 4 lane avenue is now a 1.5 lane avenue. Do you now see the problem? Congestion pricing will fix none of these things....what it WILL do is fund persion plans.
  • FreedMike Many F150s I encounter are autonomously driven...and by that I mean they're driving themselves because the dips**ts at the wheel are paying attention to everything else but the road.