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NINETY EIGHT REGENCY

Legislator proposes banning Japanese cars at Toyota hearing

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Legislator proposes banning Japanese cars at Toyota hearing

By James R. Healey, USA TODAY

A U.S. Senator said Tuesday that the U.S. should consider banning Japanese-made cars until Japan's government guarantees the vehicles have no defects.

That would be no different than Japan's multi-year ban on U.S. beef because of fears American cattle might be infected with deadly BSE, commonly called mad cow disease, said Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., who was U.S. Agriculture Secretary during the dispute with Japan.

His comment about banning Japanese-made vehicles came during a Senate committee hearing on recent Toyota safety recalls and the government's response. It was the third time in eight days that Toyota officials were called to Capitol Hill to explain why the company didn't move faster to recall vehicles that now are linked by the government to 52 deaths in 43 fatal crashes involving unintended acceleration.

Most of the 8 million Toyotas and Lexuses recalled for several problems that might cause unintended acceleration were manufactured in the U.S.

Asserting that the Japanese government has a role in insuring products shipped from its nation are safe, Johanns asked rhetorically, what if: "Until the Japanese government can assure us that all of the defects are out of these vehicles, we're just not going to accept any vehicles from Japan." Referring to restrictions on U.S. beef, he said, "That's what they did with one of our industries."

Later during the hearing, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the issue "needs to be raised" and promised to bring it up with the Japanese ambassador and in a trip to Japan.

"I'm as free-trade as anybody here, but I can tell you the American consumer is getting tired of this thing if we are getting substandard products," Johanns said.

The Japanese embassy in Washington declined comment, saying it had to check first with Tokyo officials.

Toyota recalled 2.4 million vehicles Jan. 21 because gas pedals might stick part-way open. All those were made in the U.S. using pedal assemblies designed by Toyota and made by Indiana-based CTS at a Canadian plant.

Separately it has recalled 5.6 million vehicles because ill-fitting floor mats could jam open poorly designed gas pedals. Most of those also were U.S.-made.

In the 1970s the U.S. threatened to tax Japanese cars sent to the U.S. Japanese makers agreed to voluntarily limit auto exports to America to avoid tariffs. The resulting shortages encouraged Japanese automakers to move upscale and make the same profits on smaller numbers of vehicles sold.

Johanns' suggestion "seems like such an extreme proposal that it's not likely to be taken seriously. But such a proposal, given serious consideration, could lead to important repercussions on trade, to the detriment of the U.S.," says James Sullivan, associate professor of economics at Notre Dame.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation let Johanns' provocative comments lie without reaction.

Committee members were more intent on identifying what they said were problems at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. NHTSA should not have taken so long to spot a deadly trend toward unintended acceleration in Toyotas, committee members said, because complaints from motorists increased quickly the past few years.

They also prodded LaHood and NHTSA administrator David Strickler to look harder at other automakers for unintended acceleration and pay more attention to the possible involvement of electronic glitches.

Listing data from NHTSA back to 2000, Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, noted that Toyota had few recalls some years. "It is not a Toyota problem, it is an industry problem. One gets the impression it is a Ford, Chrysler or General Motors problem," he said.

LaHood and Strickland, noted that previous problems predate them, but promised aggressive follow-up and investigation of all complaints of unintended acceleration.

Other developments, outside the Senate committee hearing:

• Toyota said it hired former U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater to head the automaker's Quality Advisory Panel. Slater is to have direct access to company president Akio Toyoda, the automaker said.

The panel is an outgrowth of government criticism of the car company for emphasizing growth and profits over safety.

• General Motors told NHTSA Monday night that it is recalling 1.3 million 2005 to 2010 Chevrolet Cobalt and 2007 to 2010 Pontiac G5 small cars, including some 2005 and 2006 cars sold in Canada as the Pontiac Pursuit and in Mexico as the Pontiac G4, because their electric steering might lose power assistance, making the vehicles hard to steer.

NHTSA had opened an investigation because of more than 1,100 complaints against the Cobalt. NHTSA also opened an investigation into power-steering complaints against the Toyota Corolla after fewer than 200 complaints.

Some committee members used the discrepancy in complaints as evidence that the government was being too tough on Toyota. The U.S. owns about 60% of GM as a result of the big automaker's Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization and government loans.

link:

http://www.usatoday.com/money/autos/2010-03-02-toyota-hearing-japanese-cars_N.htm

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No need. Just subject Japanese imports to the same scrutiny that the Japanese do with American imports.

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I see no reason to keep selling Toyotas. I sound biased, but this is being said without bias as a GM fan. I'm coming at this as an American. The Japanese don't sell our cars and banned our beef for multiple years because of safety issues? Sounds a little lop-sided now doesn't it, DC?

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As much as I am tempted to cheer for this, I know it is an absurd over-reaction.

The scary thing is that it is just another example of the government idiocy when dealing with the industry. These fools play with so much they simply have no understanding of. The current mess is the legacy of incompetent authority, both through action and inaction, over a period of decades.

Our trade policies are incoherent, and our attempts at regulation counter-productive.

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Although this may sound ridiculous, this is pretty much the stance Japan DID take on our beef. No real problem with it, just trying to find an excuse to NOT sell it.

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Although this may sound ridiculous, this is pretty much the stance Japan DID take on our beef. No real problem with it, just trying to find an excuse to NOT sell it.

No argument there, that's how Japan operates.

My gripe is with how our own government has responded over the decades.

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I know Mr. Johanns was speaking in jest, but it is still a wildly absurd thing to say and not productive.

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I don't know, maybe making such a wild proposal will illustrate the scope of the issue.

If reasonable trade practices result from the scrutiny his comments engender - then good.

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