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Toyota’s Smoking Gun?

22nd February 2010

The Wall Street Journal is reporting today that among the documents Toyota has turned in to the Congressional committee investigating acceleration-gate is a potentially damning document that apparently describes as a win their success in lobbying the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) to limit the recall over sudden acceleration to only 55,000 units. The document claims the save to the company was $100 million. The document also claims other wins in eliminating other potential recalls, including the Tacoma pickup.

This is just the kind of “smoking gun” that Congress and safety advocates will say “proves” that Toyota intentionally put the company’s profits above the safety of its customers. Toyota said, “Our first priority is the safety of our customers and to conclude otherwise on the basis of one internal presentation is wrong. Our values have always been to put the customer first and ensure the highest levels of safety and quality. Our recently announced top-to-bottom quality review of all company operations, along with new quality initiatives and a renewed commitment to transparency are all designed to reaffirm these values.”

It is entirely inappropriate to take a page from a presentation out of context and use it like this. Of course Toyota cares about its customers – just about every company does. Just about every company also cares about its profits, and they should. It is likely that the Toyota employees that put the presentation together would regard saving $100 million as a good thing – who wouldn’t? They likely also thought that because they were successful in lobbying NHTSA to limit the scope of the recall, NHTSA agreed that more vehicles didn’t need to be recalled. Given what the letters NHTSA stand for, Toyota logically assumed that NHTSA would push for the recall if it deemed it necessary. It apparently didn’t, at least until the publicity of the San Diego law enforcement officer’s death made this a bigger, more public issue.

Did Toyota act perfectly? It seems not. But to take this piece of paper as proof that they willfully put the lives of their customers in danger is silly, and dangerous.

That’s what I think – how about you? Please leave your comments below. Thanks!

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