Conservative media outlets, as well as a USA Today blogger, have suggested or asserted that the Obama administration is forcing the recall of millions of Toyota vehicles for safety issues regarding reports of sudden unintended acceleration in order to denigrate the company, benefit unions, and boost sales of vehicles manufactured by General Motors and Chrysler, which the federal government bailed out last year. In fact, sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles has reportedly been an issue as early as 1999, and Toyota has stated that its recall was voluntary.
USA Today blogger asks if Toyota is being "punished"
USA Today blogger: "Is Toyota being punished by Obama, Congress and Detroit?" A January 29 post on USA Today's DriveOn blog carried the headline: "Payback time: Is Toyota being punished by Obama, Congress and Detroit?" The post continued:
Are the Obama administration and Rust Belt members of Congress taking political advantage of Toyota to bolster the fortunes of Detroit automakers?
Given how Toyota has had to stop selling eight models, including the mega-popular Camry and Corolla, the question is worth posing.
It was only a year ago that Toyota seemed impervious as Detroit automakers dangled on the ropes. General Motors and Chrysler received government loans, giving taxpayers a big stake in their recovery. The UAW, which has long sought to organize Toyota's U.S. plants, now has a bigger voice. A weak Toyota benefits all.
Conservative media suggest conspiracy against Toyota
WND's Roger Hedgecock: "is government 'greed' a factor here?" In a February 1 WorldNetDaily column, radio host Roger Hedgecock questioned whether Obama is waging a "jihad against Toyota" due to "government 'greed' " and a desire to exact "revenge against a successful, non-union, red state based rival":
Disclosure: My family drives Toyota cars (a Prius and a Lexus SUV), and we have never had a problem with these excellent products. On our cars (and every other Toyota vehicle I've seen), the floor mats are firmly secured by hooks and cannot interfere with the gas pedal. And the gas pedal works just as it should -- press down and the car moves faster. Ease up and the car slowly decelerates.
Nonetheless, Toyota faces a perfect storm from SUA. But is government "greed" a factor here? As a co-owner of Toyota rivals GM and Chrysler, is the Obama administration and its jihad against Toyota "consumer protection" or revenge against a successful, non-union, red state based rival? Given what Rahm Emanuel said about crisis as an opportunity to "advance the agenda," this question deserves closer attention.
Consider the facts that are currently available.
A year ago, Toyota was riding high. With non-union manufacturing plants in Georgia, Texas, Mississippi, Kentucky and Indiana, Toyota made the most popular and most highly regarded vehicles in the U.S. Rivals GM and Chrysler were imploding, and the president stepped in with massive taxpayer cash infusions and took over these companies as joint ventures between the federal government and the UAW.
Why is Toyota singled out for SUA? A Consumer Reports study indicated that, for the model year 2008, there were 52 complaints filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration against Toyota for SUA, representing 41 percent of all such complaints even though Toyota had just 18 percent of the U.S. market.
However, the same Consumer Reports study relates that GM and Chrysler also were the subject of SUA complaints to the NHTSA, but none of their plants were shut and the affected models were not recalled nor banned from sale. One of the vehicles named in these complaints is GM's Pontiac Vibe but the NHTSA has not ordered its recall nor banned its sale.
RedState: "Are we really supposed to believe this is all a coincidence?" In a February 2 RedState post, Edward Mosby wrote:
We are now supposed to believe, then, that the Obama administrations only interest in sticking it to Toyota is to protect US consumers from an alleged defect that has yet to be fully proven? Even after the UAW donated millions to The One's campaign? Even though the government has a major stake in GM? Even when the president's Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, brags about how they went to Toyota's headquarters in Japan to "wake them up?" Even after Lahood smears Toyota as "safety deaf" and threatens that they're "not done with Toyota?"
Are we really supposed to believe this is all a coincidence?
Cavuto: Is recall about "getting American's bottoms into maybe American union-made cars?" On the February 3 edition of Fox News' Your World, Neil Cavuto asked: " Well, is all of this about getting to the bottom of the car crisis, then, or getting American's bottoms into maybe American union-made cars?" Cavuto hosted guest and New York Jeep dealer Jim Anderer, who asserted that "it is really interesting that Toyota has this problem, and it seems like this administration is using it as an excuse to prop up the UAW and the Teamsters." Anderer then claimed, "It's their modus operandi. They do this all the time. Any excuse that they have, they're going to use a crisis to enhance the unions or forward their agenda." Cavuto cited the "fortuitious timing" of the Toyota recall, adding, "That is good timing for the bailed-out American companies, that all of a sudden -- this is like a perverse gift from heaven."
Examiner editorial: "Gangster government targets Toyota." In a February 4 editorial headlined "Gangster government targets Toyota," the Washington Examiner stated:
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 is 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 is up 14 percent (Ford, which declined a government bailout last year, is up 25 percent, while Chrysler is 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 ya got there, be a shame if anything happened to it."
Limbaugh: Obama administration is "going after Toyota" through "thug politics." On the February 4 edition of his radio show, Rush Limbaugh said: "Now these guys are going after Toyota. Thug politics. The General Motors-Chrysler owners are going -- the government -- is going after Toyota."
But voluntary recall responds to Toyota's reported longtime issue of sudden acceleration
Toyota: Recall was "voluntary." A January 21 Toyota press release announcing the recall of vehicles regarding the "sticking accelerator pedals on specific Toyota Division models" quoted Toyota Motor Sales Group vice president Irv Miller as saying: "In recent months, Toyota has investigated isolated reports of sticking accelerator pedal mechanisms in certain vehicles without the presence of floor mats. ... Our investigation indicates that there is a possibility that certain accelerator pedal mechanisms may, in rare instances, mechanically stick in a partially depressed position or return slowly to the idle position. Consistent with our commitment to the safety of our cars and our customers, we have initiated this voluntary recall action."
Sudden acceleration reportedly an issue as early as 1999. A January 30 Los Angeles Times article reported that "[s]udden-acceleration events in Toyota and Lexus vehicles have been blamed for at least 19 fatalities and 815 vehicle crashes since 1999," which are "more than those that have occurred in vehicles from all other automakers combined, according to figures provided to The Times by NHTSA." A February 3 Times article stated, "Despite eight investigations by NHTSA dating to 2003 of sudden acceleration in Toyota and Lexus vehicles, the problem continued through last year until the large-scale recall began."
Cavuto noted Times' reporting prior to conspiracy-mongering guest. Before Cavuto interviewed Anderer on the February 3 Your World, Cavuto hosted Fox News correspondent Jeff Flock, who cited the Times' reporting: "The L.A. Times reporting that as far back as 2003, Sienna minivans had a problem with their pedals. In 2006, Toyota Tundra had a problem with sticking brake pedals. Same problem, same issue. No word about it back then. That could really come back and bite them."
Vibe is included in Toyota recall. Contrary to Hedgecock's assertion that "the NHTSA has not ordered its recall" for GM's Pontiac Vibe -- a mechanical twin of the Toyota Matrix, which is on Toyota's recall list -- a February 1 NHTSA press release lists the Vibe along with other Toyota models being recalled.
Conservatives have history of conspiracy-mongering about government, automakers
Conspiracy theory: Chrysler dealers dropped because they were conservative. Fox News' Cavuto was among those in the conservative media promoting the conspiracy theory in 2009 that Chrysler dealers were losing their franchises because their owners had donated to Republicans. In fact, as blogger Nate Silver has pointed out, "It turns out that all car dealers are, in fact, overwhelmingly more likely to donate to Republicans than to Democrats -- not just those who are having their doors closed."