Toyota, Congress Posture With the Best of Them

Toyota President Akio Toyoda voluntarily testified before a congressional committee yesterday. Toyoda´s intent was to rebuild American confidence in his company´s products. The Wall Street Journal has the story:

(During the) three-hour session…Mr. Toyoda insisted there was nothing wrong with the company’s electronic throttles, promised to meet with a professor who claimed there was, apologized for accidents involving Toyota vehicles and endured heated and at times hostile questions.

In Japan, senior executives whose companies make big mistakes undertake a familiar, public ritual of apology. They bow deeply. They express regret. Often they resign. They aren’t usually subjected to hostile interrogations by legislators.

In the U.S., executives whose companies make big mistakes don’t bow. Instead, they hire lobbyists, publicists and lawyers and brace to endure humiliating interrogations by lawmakers.

“You’ll be able to brag about the fact that you withstood the interrogation of a congressional committee,” said Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D., Pa.), who then proceeded to lambaste Toyota for failing to act sooner to deal with safety problems and threw in a plug for the U.S. product-liability system. He said he expected Toyota “will be called upon under our system to pay compensation.”

Sounds more like posturing than a concerted effort to build consumer confidence. Toyoda proved to Congress that he´s willing to testify in an unfamiliar American system. By doing that, Toyoda is emphasizing how important the American market is to his company. And he´s pleasing the very politicians who may want to slap his company with fees or fines.

Congress, meanwhile, had the chance to flex some muscle. The congressional reps on the panel get to prove their dedication to consumer rights, nice to have during the next election.

And consumers? Until they know exactly what caused the problem, and why, I can´t see much confidence coming out of this, especially at a time when a fair amount of those very people don´t think much of Congressional virtue.

The Toyoda hearings sound like little more than political posturing.

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  • I agree with you entirely. Most public congressional hearings are for show. Ever since TV cameras have been allowed in the congressional meetings, its all been about the production of a good video rather than getting results. Representative prepare their sound bites even before they ask the questions.

    I think congress sometimes get results, just not in front of the public.