Big week for Toyota execs

Big week for Toyota execs

Toyota executives and at least 100 auto dealers will try to ease concerns about safety issues with Toyota cars as two Congressional panels delve into the automaker’s problems this week.

The hearings are likely to be contentious.


In a letter released on Monday, Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, questioned whether Toyota has been forthcoming about whether a “sticky pedal” blamed for the unintended sudden acceleration behind several vehicle recalls is really the cause.

The Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations subcommittee will hold a hearing on the Toyota safety issue on Tuesday. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and James Lentz, president and chief operating officer of Toyota Motor Sales, are scheduled to testify.

On Wednesday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee takes up the issue. LaHood and National Highway Safety Traffic Administration chief David Strickland are testifying.

Akio Toyoda, president and CEO of Toyota, and Yoshimi Inaba, president and CEO of Toyota North America, are also scheduled to appear.

The Japanese automaker, under fire for a series of recalls since last summer, has done what other companies do when in trouble on Capitol Hill: hire lawyers, lobbyists and crisis management consultants to help it avoid a punitive legislative response.

Toyota, which spent $5 million on lobbying in 2009, is no newcomer to Washington. This year it added Glover Park Group, a well-connected lobbying and public relations outfit dominated by Democrats. Quinn Gillespie & Associates, a bipartisan firm, registered to help Toyota at the start of the year but has since terminated the contract due to a conflict with another client.

The company also hired King & Spalding and attorney Theodore Hester to help with the congressional hearings.

Meanwhile, Toyota engineers and other technical experts have done “dozens” of briefings for members and staff on the recall and how the automakers was fixing the safety issues, according to a spokesman for the company.

Kurt Bardella, a Republican spokesman for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said one area members would focus on are documents released Sunday that suggested Toyota executives were excited about a successful lobbying effort in 2007 to limit a recall to 55,000 vehicles.

The company issued a statement saying that its first priority is the safety of its customers.

Congressional testimony is sometimes not particularly illuminating, as witnesses, under advice from counsel, decline to answer the most sensitive questions. On Monday, Toyota announced it had received subpoenas from a U.S. federal grand jury and the Securities and Exchange Commission related to the unintended acceleration issue and a braking problem reported in its Prius model.


Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the ranking member on the House Oversight Committee, said the subpoenas should not affect Toyoda’s testimony before the panel.

“If you haven’t done anything wrong, then you have nothing to hide and there is no reason why Toyota should not be able to provide straightforward and honest testimony,” Issa said in a statement.

Toyota has recalled 6 million vehicles since September. Some recalls were related to the gas pedal becoming stuck, leading to unintended acceleration.

In addition to boosting its lobbying team, the company and the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) is helping sponsor a fly-in lobby day of 100 Toyota dealers who will stress how important the carmaker is to their local economies.

Most of the dealers come from districts represented by members who sit on the two congressional committees holding hearings this week.

“This isn’t just about an international company based in Japan with a great deal of manufacturing in the United States,” said Bailey Wood, a lobbyist for the NADA. “There are 75,000 jobs tied directly to Toyota that don’t deal with manufacturing.”

Geithner to meet with industry reps

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is set to meet on Thursday with several of the biggest financial trade associations as the Senate prepares to debate new regulations.

Geithner is scheduled to meet with the American Bankers Association (ABA), Financial Services Roundtable, Financial Services Forum, Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA), Securities Industry & Financial Markets Association (SIFMA) and U.S Chamber of Commerce.

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) this week is set to unveil legislation aimed at curbing excessive risks in the system and preventing future taxpayer-funded bailouts of financial firms.

The House passed wide-ranging legislation in December, but action in the Senate has been bogged down for a great deal of the last year. Dodd had introduced legislation late last year, but it stalled immediately. Dodd has been working with Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerTrump asserts his power over Republicans Romney is only GOP senator not on new White House coronavirus task force McConnell, Romney vie for influence over Trump's trial MORE (R-Tenn.) to craft bipartisan legislation.


Meanwhile, Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.), the top Republican on the Banking panel, has been drafting an alternate bill.

Jackson to testify

Toyoda will not be the only witness who has to answer tough questions this week. Lisa Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, faces the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Tuesday, which includes a number of Republicans unhappy with EPA’s push to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

The hearing is ostensibly to review EPA’s budget request, but is likely to turn into a broader debate on global warming, with Republicans seizing a chance to challenge the administration’s push to regulate greenhouse gas emissions in an open forum.

Senate Republicans, along with a few Democrats, are trying to keep the EPA from moving forward through the Congressional Review Act, which enables Congress to block federal regulations. Republicans on the committee are likely Tuesday to try to build a case in support of that effort.

Matt Dempsey, a GOP spokesman for the committee, said Jackson’s appearance gives the minority a chance to press her about recent controversies relating to climate research that skeptics say undermine the science behind climate change.

Meanwhile, eight Senate Democrats jointly said Friday that they fear the economic effects of planned EPA global warming rules. The letter signals a widening Democratic challenge to EPA action even as legislation to create a new climate-change program remains stuck.

The Democrats, who hail mostly from coal-producing and coal-reliant states, said in a letter to the EPA that they have “serious economic and energy security concerns” about rules to limit greenhouse gases from power plants and other stationary sources.

Ben Geman and Silla Brush contributed to this article.