Toyota hearings: senators say carmaker put profit over safety
Toyota hearings resumed Tuesday on Capitol Hill, as lawmakers pressed three top officials on what the company knew and when they knew it. In Japan, there's a suspicion the recalls are about rolling back the carmaker's market share.
Call it a tale of two conspiracies.Skip to next paragraph
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For many US lawmakers, the heart of the Toyota self-accelerating car debacle is a decision by top Japanese officials to put profit ahead of safety. Meanwhile, in Japan and some US business editorial pages, there’s suspicion that the US recalls are all about rolling back Toyota’s market share.
“Safety took a second seat to profits,” said Sen. John (Jay) Rockefeller (D) of West Virginia, who chaired a day-long hearing Tuesday by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee on the Toyota recalls and the government’s response.
“In Japanese culture and Japanese corporations, things do not happen by chance, they happen by decision,” he added at the end of Tuesday’s hearing. (Senator Rockefeller spent three years in Japan as a university student and helped bring a Toyota plant to Buffalo, W.Va.)
Senators pressed three top Toyota officials on what the company knew and when they knew it – and when, senators allege, corporate priorities shifted from safety to profit.
“What I’m trying to understand is why was Toyota able to move so deftly, so quickly, and overcome the established auto industry that existed in this country,” asked Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) of New Jersey. “They went from a 10 percent market share in 1999 to 13 percent of the market share in 2008. General Motors fell from 17 percent to 12 percent…. Ford fell from 13 percent to 8 percent in the same time.”
“Building a trust among the customers is the key to our past success and we would like to do the same into the future,” said Yoshimi Inaba, president and CEO of Toyota Motors North America. Toyota employs some 200,000 “team members” at plants, dealerships, and suppliers in the US, where it has had a presence for 50 years.
Last week, Toyota President Akio Toyoda, grandson of the founder, appeared before a House panel and took “full responsibility” for the failures that prompted the recalls of millions of Toyotas in the United States.
Toyota executive vice president Shinichi Sasaki, one of two top board members to appear before the Senate panel, said that Toyota is “fundamentally overhauling Toyota’s quality assurance process, under the personal direction of our president, Akio Toyoda.” He also said that Americans would have a greater role in quality assurance decisions, including recalls. (For Monitor coverage on the impact of the recalls on Toyota's sales, click here.)