Finally: Akio Toyoda agrees to testify before Congress

In a bow to the inevitable, Akio Toyoda reversed course and said he would testify before Congress. As reported in the Wall Street Journal:

“I would like to make efforts to promote a better understanding of our determination to our customers, and to America,” Mr. Toyoda told reporters Friday in Japan.

For the past two weeks, I’ve said repeatedly in interviews and on this blog that pressure will surely build for Toyota’s president to testify, and that, in the end, he will succumb to that pressure; so why not save himself and the company the embarrassment by announcing sooner than later that he wants to testify.

In fact, as recently as yesterday morning I repeated the prediction to Japanese mega-newspaper group Tokyo-Chunichi Shimbun, saying that Akio Toyoda will be compelled to testify and that further attempts to avoid Congress would ony hurt his company.

The focus of the interview (I’ll put up the link as soon as I can find it here) was on the question of why Toyota was feeling so much heat in America — is this mainly Japan-bashing?

No, I said. Toyota is feeling the heat because they have numerous on-going investigations for safety defects potentially endangering millions of customers around the world. That’s not Japan-bashing.

At the Congressional hearings Toyota should expect extensive questions, I said, along the line of “What did they know? And when did they know it?” The American public is extremely forgiving of companies that have a problem and act quickly and comprehensively to fix it. But if a company is seen to have hidden evidence of a problem before being forced to act, a basic trust with the public will be broken and that company can expect harsh treatment by Congress that won’t go away quickly.

But if another company not from Japan, say Hyundai or Volkswagen, was in a similar position, the persistent journalist asked, would it face the same criticism Toyota is facing as a Japanese company?

Of course, I said — although with one caveat: A company smaller than Toyota might not be treated as harshly. It’s in our American culture, I said: Not Japan-bashing but giant-bashing. The news media loves to tear down the big guys.

I didn’t mention that this is exactly what happened to Wal-Mart. I figure they can read my blog.

- Jon Harmon

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