Toyota-bashing vs. legitimate concern
Akio Toyoda, president and CEO of Toyota Motor Corp., testifies on Capitol Hill today, defending and explaining his company’s actions or inactions regarding Toyota vehicles. I imagine it will be extremely difficult for him, considering the way things are usually done in Japan.
Yes, I think his testimony here is important; public accountability is the way we do things in this country. It’s not overreaching to require his appearance. But all of this begs the question: Is this entire Toyota recall event just competitor-bashing by the American government?
It’s a legitimate question, considering the huge amounts of money our government poured into General Motors to keep that failing company afloat (something that never should have happened, but that was another post). I was on the receiving end yesterday of a rant from my daughter-in-law about exactly that — her thinking that this entire Toyota thing is nothing but our government trying to take down a big competitor. She included a long explanation of how companies weigh the cost of defending lawsuits vs. the cost of recalls and their attendant publicity. This, of course, is how most companies do business; they evaluate every decision with an eye to the bottom line. In Toyota’s case, though, we’re talking about people dying, which I think changes the equation. It’s one thing to not recall products that break, don’t function properly, or might cause illness or minor injury. It’s quite another to stay quiet about defects that are crashing cars and killing people.
Do I think the recalls are justified and necessary? Absolutely.
Is this entire Toyota recall thing being overblown? Probably. The media are having a field day and the politicians can’t wait to be seen speaking in defense of their constituents. But I would like to see the media do some comparisons of the relative severity and numbers of the Toyota problems vs. those of other car companies. A little perspective would be illuminating
Do I think the whole thing is a plot by the US government to take down a competitor? No. Certainly there’s the appearance of a conflict of interest, but I don’t think the government’s pumping money into GM necessarily means an all-out government assault on a foreign competitor. After all, Toyota, like many other foreign automakers, provides a lot of jobs in American plants and dealerships. And Toyota’s problems were being reported months before a gradually escalating public outcry finally warranted a congressional investigation.
My bottom line: Virtually all adult Americans drive cars. It’s a way of life for us. If any of those cars are found to have defects that are causing crashes and killing people, and the car manufacturer doesn’t act immediately and forthrightly to correct the defects, then yes, I would fully expect our government to demand accountability on behalf of its citizens.