If all goes as planned, Toyota President Akio Toyoda will find himself on the hot seat Wednesday as he testifies before the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee in Washington over the Japanese auto maker’s endless recall mess.
But if the founder’s grandson expects to issue an apology and skip town, it’s not going to happen. The hearings are not about apologies. They are, as they were with the Detroit Big Three last year, about scolding, humiliating, grandstanding, positioning, pathos and perhaps some truths.
In other words, a pound of flesh.
I don’t feel sorry for Toyoda. The buck stops with him. He’s remained in the shadows far too long. But I do sympathize with someone who is attempting to explain complicated issues in their second language, even if he did attend university here.
That may not be a problem if Toyoda only is allowed a “yes” or “no,” response, a favorite of lawmakers when they’re grilling on the Hill. Hope not. If these hearings are about anything, it should be answers, and the American public is all ears.
Lives have been lost and others forever altered. Ask Mr. and Mrs. Smith, who went to Washington to testify about their harrowing experience with a runaway car. Her, thinking she has to crash into a guardrail to save other lives. He, hearing what he thinks are his wife’s last words as she calls him via Bluetooth to say good-bye.
Who's at fault and who’s not may never be made clear, at least not at these hearings. The most we can hope for is improved safety systems in all vehicles, just not Toyotas; respect for the customer, from the auto makers on down to the dealer service department; and a governmental safety agency that remembers it works for the public and not Big Business.