Mr. Toyoda avoids Washington. Wouldn't you?

Posted by: David Welch on February 18, 2010

Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda has snubbed Congress. He politely declined to come and testify at the Feb. 24 hearings during which the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will look into the automaker’s string of recalls, Bloomberg reported. That has Washington lawmakers scolding the 53-year-old Toyota president, who is also the grandson of the company founder. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) already expressed his disappointment.

I’ll go out on a limb and say I can’t blame him. It’s actually the right move. These hearings often become vaudeville acts for politicians to make a name for themselves. Either way, Toyota will lose on this one. Mr. Toyoda declined, and he is taking heat. If he agreed to go, he would still take heat and it could be worse. If the Toyoda family scion shows up, the spotlight will be even more intense. He may be questioned about why the company didn’t act sooner, but my hunch is that some members of Congress will be more interested in making an example of a top executive—and Toyoda family heir—than getting information.

In his place at least one hearing will be Yoshimi Inaba, the Japanese President of Toyota Motor North America. From what I have gathered, Inaba is the best guy the company has to handle the task. He knows the U.S. operations deeply and should be able to offer up some real answers, to the extent that Congress wants them. Inaba is Japanese, but he has spent 40 years working for Toyota in a variety of global markets. He has had top jobs in the U.S. and Europe. He got his MBA at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and his English is fluent, according to one retired Toyota executive who spent years working with him. Inaba has been in plenty of sales jobs and he is known for being very personable. In other words, he has the tools for the task.

Perhaps Toyoda would as well. But we know what can happen when the wrong executive goes before an angry Congressional committee. If Mr. Toyoda showed up before Congress, the company risks a public beating for the top executive. When Ford Explorers were rolling over on their faulty Firestone tires, it was CEO Jacques Nasser—not Chairman and Ford family scion William C. Ford Jr.—who went to Washington. Nasser knew the business better. This looks to be a similar case. The spotlight will be on Inaba, and he is probably better suited to handle this kind of maelstrom than his boss. At the least, his name isn’t on the building. That alone should defuse some of the theatrics.

Reader Comments

john

February 18, 2010 6:54 PM

The racism against Toyota in the US media is unbelievable. This is why I don't respect this country. If they would just come out with their racism rather than being oh so subtle about it.

charles taylor

February 18, 2010 7:17 PM

The japanese believe we americans are idiots (with congress its not a surprise)and no respect for our laws or regulations. It time to evaluate all foreign companies in america and how they treat their employees and/or customers.

Nobunaga

February 18, 2010 8:39 PM

I do hope that Mr. Toyoda does go to Congress. He should insist on interpreters to translate to and from Japanese. That should slow things down quite a bit and rob the theatrics and hysteria of Congress of much of their impact.

Strategery

February 18, 2010 9:10 PM

I would. Consider, for almost a century, congress has kept the corrupt for-profit private federal reserve in power. They sided with Alan Greenspan and others in the 90's to keep derivatives unregulated, and even after recent government bailouts, they have not passed financial reform. It is not uncommon for approval ratings to be in the single digits. And, all members except for a small handful are fully bought and controlled by special interests.

S, Michigan

February 19, 2010 11:55 AM

I guess Prince Toyoda's change in decision shows how much the author of this article knows and how much people listen to him ("right decision" ha!). Lil Toyoda needs to brush up his Englees and bow (or bow bow) lower.

bmidd

February 19, 2010 4:54 PM

He probably thinks Congress is going to make him drive from Tokyo like the Big Three.

JT

February 22, 2010 9:24 PM

Americans, wake up! this is a roman circus!

Your beloved congressmen are not looking after American drivers' interest or safey. Their only intention is to destroy the enemy (as they call many other groups, like immigrants, muslims, blacks, gays, etc) and make sure both their companies (GM and Chrysler) regain all the market share lost to bad management and engineering of the last 20 years.

This is not about recalls or unintended acceleration. This is about a bigger-than-ever government that is making your country less free than it has ever been.

ps

February 23, 2010 8:56 PM

While this is a witch hunt thru and thru, there is one fact that is missing. Toyoda-sama is the first of the Toyota leadership clan to be educated in the UNITED STATES! And, he has an MBA! I guess that puts him on par with the Nardellis and the Skillings! See, MBA's do make a positive impact on American industry, when the MBA execs are in a foreign competitor of course.

jeff

February 23, 2010 10:26 PM

i don't understand why people keep saying that Toyota is a Japanese company.
How many japanese employees do they have? have many japanese clients do they have? how many factories doe they have in Japan?

now compare your answer to the US. please do not post anything until you actuallly find the numbers. have some data before you speak.

ps

February 26, 2010 12:26 PM

@Jeff- Good point. Toyota is a multinational corporation, like GM, GE, Ford, Nestle etc. Toyota, like other multinational automakers, invests here and not just assembly line and foundry jobs. Toyota also has engineering centers and design centers in the states. Looking at employee distribution is an intersting idea.

DanDetroit

March 2, 2010 8:41 PM

Toyota's stock is listed on the Japanese stock exchange, their central office HQ, top leadership and the vast bulk of their engineering staff and employees are in Japan. It is clearly a Japanese company, despite their PR efforts to obfuscate that truth.

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Want the straight scoop on the auto industry? Our man in Detroit David Welch, brings keen observations and provocative perspective on the auto business.

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