U.S. lawmakers appeared to be looking for somebody to hang on Wednesday over Toyota Motor Corp’s scandal-plagued vehicles. In their sights were the car company’s executives and a U.S. government watchdog agency.
Toyota’s executives, more accustomed to issuing orders than taking them, and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former member of Congress, found themselves under a withering storm of questions on a day of high drama on Capitol Hill.
Toyota President Akio Toyoda and North American President Yoshimi Inaba, their faces set in a strained grimace, were largely conciliatory.
“I sincerely regret that some people actually encountered accidents in Toyota vehicles,” said Toyoda, whose remarks in Japanese were translated into English.
LaHood, on the other hand, was combative, shouting his answers back at members of the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform as if they were hard of hearing.
Pressed on whether a watchdog agency under his purview, the National Highway Traffic Safety Agency, had become too cozy with car companies, LaHood erupted.
“On my watch, we’ve been a lapdog for nobody,” he said. “I’m not a lapdog for anybody and none of our employees are either.”
The Toyota executives expressed remorse about accidents from runaway acceleration that has led to several fatal accidents in the United States and damaged Toyota, a $200 billion company.
Their comments boiled down to a message repeated over and over — Toyota’s race to become a top global producer led to compromised quality and safety and they will work to restore their customers’ trust.
Lawmakers, with cable television cameras running, poured out all the frustrations they have been hearing from their constituents about Toyota vehicles.
Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton asked them if her Camry hybrid was safe. Representative Paul Kanjorski said Americans had a great deal of faith in anything stamped “Made in Japan” and that this belief was now in question.
He blasted Inaba for a memo with his name on it that detailed Toyota cost savings from vehicle recalls.
“I’m embarrassed for you, sir,” he said.