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David Harsanyi: The Toyota Pile-On

Washington's conflict of interest fuels speculation of a double standard against the automaker

Toyotas have minds of their own, apparently. But not to worry. The U.S. government will smite the robotic menace — and the company’s profits along with it.

David Harsanyi
David Harsanyi

As one Lexus-driving victim said at a recent congressional committee hearing, “Shame on you, Toyota, for being so greedy.”

Indeed. Greed has reared its ugly head again. Shame on Toyota for consistently selling cars we want to buy. Shame on Toyota for employing thousands of Americans and building those unseemly factories. Shame on the company for perfecting the mass production of environmentally friendly hybrid vehicles.

Toyota has such an insatiable appetite for profit that it knowingly allows consumers to perish in Lexus deathtraps. One wonders why Toyota would risk its sterling reputation. Then again, it matters little now that D.C. has started dismantling it.

The Toyota horror is well on its way to transforming the Corolla into the Pinto of the 21st century. Who knows? Perhaps the worst is true about Toyota. Perhaps it is hiding something. Maybe Toyota thought it was infallible. Maybe it is evil. Right now, though you might not know it, it’s all just a bunch of maybes.

There have been, to this point, 2,600 incidents of “sudden unintended acceleration” reported to Toyota — a company that used to sell 9 million cars yearly, most of them in the United States. This yet-to-be-defined glitch — maybe floor mats sticking — reportedly has caused more than 30 deaths.

What we do know is that anyone involved in a Toyota-driven accident now has a scapegoat — and, if the person’s smart, a lawyer.

All of a sudden, Toyotas are dangerous. Edmunds.com, which reviewed more than 200,000 complaints filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration during the past decade, found that Toyota ranked fourth best among the top 20 automakers in the overall number of complaints per vehicle sold.

General Motors came in six spots lower. Then again, GM is special — or, rather, developmentally disabled. Thus, the U.S. government has the majority stake (with funding extracted from taxpayers) in Toyota’s main competitor. It also has the power to drag the CEO of its chief rival to Washington to nearly badger him into cutting off a pinky in one of those ritual atonement ceremonies.

All in good time on the finger thing. Toyota’s January sales fell 16 percent, and some analysts are expecting sales will be down as much as 40 percent in the coming year, which doubtlessly will do wonders for the economy.

The other majority shareholder in GM (also on your dime) is the United Auto Workers union. As Mark Tapscott of The Washington Examiner recently uncovered, 59 Democrats serving on the two congressional panels involved in the investigation of the nonunionized Toyota had received re-election campaign contributions from UAW.

Then there is the administration. Less than a year ago, Ford — a private, nongovernmental good ol’ American corporation — issued the largest single recall in its long history. A total of 4.5 million vehicles were recalled after it was learned that faulty switches were fire hazards.

At the time, the Obama administration’s overmatched transportation secretary, Ray LaHood, gently prodded customers “to pay attention.” When news of Toyota’s problems began to emerge — before we even knew what it was all about — LaHood told Americans to “stop driving” them. (He later claimed he misspoke.)

Now, it is difficult to believe that congressfolk and the administration are engaged in some concerted effort to prop up GM by sinking Toyota. (After all, if that were true, why would our government be running the company in the first place?)

There is, however, an unsettling conflict of interest. Whatever happened with these cars, the subsequent investigation creates suspicion about the motives of those involved. And just another of countless reasons that Washington should stay out of the car business.

David Harsanyi is a columnist at The Denver Post and the author of Nanny State. Click here for more information, or click here to contact him.

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