Examiner Editorial: Gangster government’s latest target is Toyota’s gas pedals 

What is it about the automotive industry that inspires such thuggish attitudes in the Obama administration?

The Examiner’s Michael Barone coined the term “gangster government” to describe threats by the White House last spring against Chrysler creditors who had the temerity to insist that bankruptcy laws be followed in the bailout of the perennially ailing third member of the once-fabled Detroit Big Three. Now, along comes Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood saying, “We’re not finished yet with Toyota” in the controversy over sticking gas pedals in vehicles made and sold in America by the Japanese automaker.

The basis for these threats is little more than anecdote-based suspicions that an electronic malady related to electro-magnetic interference from power lines might be the problem instead of the mechanical wear identified by Toyota engineers. Regardless, LaHood, headline-chasing congressmen like Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, and a chorus of Naderite auto safety nannies led by former  National Highway Traffic Safety Administration head Joan Claybrook are demanding that Toyota submit to a punishing new round of subpoenas, hearings and media inquisition.

It’s not enough that Toyota — the auto industry’s perennial leader on respected measures of initial and long-term quality — already has taken the unprecedented step of suspending production and sales of eight of its most popular models, undertaken a crash course to identify the cause of the problem, and guaranteed a fix for every one of the 2.3 million affected owners.

Given the Obama administration’s catering to one of its favorite special interest groups, the United Auto Workers union, during the government’s bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler last year, it’s difficult to avoid wondering whether Toyota has become a victim of the Chicago Way of dealing with competitors. Toyota overtook GM several years ago as the world’s leading automaker.

The potential of the current sticking gas pedal controversy to inflict damage on Toyota here in its largest single market is seen in the January sales figures. Toyota sales are down 16 percent while GM’s are up 14 percent (Ford’s, which declined a government bailout last year, are up 25 percent while Chrysler’s are down 8 percent). Keep the controversy going and odds are good that Toyota sales will continue to drop.

The biggest losers besides American consumers will be the men and women who own and work at Toyota’s 1,200 U.S. dealerships and the 30,000 Americans who build Toyotas in its five factories here. LaHood might as well have said, “Nice car company you got there. Be a shame if anything happened to it.”

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Staff Report

Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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