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Toyota, Toyota, Toyota!

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By John Barnhart

    I wonder if this is politically motivated?

    Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported (Page B1 of the Apr. 6 edition) that Toyota faces a $16.4 million fine in the United States. According to this news article, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood is seeking the fine, accusing Toyota of knowingly hiding a problem with sticky gas pedals from U. S. regulators. This is the maximum fine allowed under U. S. law and vastly exceeds the previous record of $1 million.

    The impact of this fine on a company the size of Toyota is insignificant. The real damage could come from civil suits working their way through American courts. The fine would give these suits a boost.

    This isn’t all. The Department of Transportation may seek additional fines and Toyota is being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission and a federal grand jury.

    Keep in mind that it was barely a year ago that General Motors became Obama Motors. Also keep in mind that the United Autoworkers union is a major “Democratic” Party campaign contributor. Toyota’s plants in the United States are not unionized.

    Japanese automakers such as Toyota and Nissan have done very well in the United States over the last 40 years. Back in the ‘70s, when American auto makers seemed unable to manage quality control, the Japanese cars steadily gained a reputation for high quality and reliability. It’s a well-deserved reputation that they’ve maintained. The 2000 Toyota Camry, that I bought new on New Year’s Eve in 1999, has given me virtually no trouble. In more than a decade, I’ve only had two repairs that were not routine maintenance — the throttle body had to be cleaned and I had to have the alternator replaced.

    During the same period, American manufacturers were gaining a reputation for poor quality and poor, occasionally dangerous, design.

    The Big Three may have started getting their act together in the past decade. A Ford Focus that I drove last year as a rental car while my Camry was getting body work done following an unpleasant encounter with a deer, was an impressive little car. Ford, it should be noted, is the only U. S. auto manufacturer that didn’t take a taxpayer bailout.

    However, American manufacturers dug themselves into a rather large hole over the years and the Big Three compounded their problems by exploiting a loophole in fuel efficiency standards that was big enough to drive a light truck through. They built their business model around selling SUVs, essentially light trucks, and stayed the course in the face of rising gasoline prices, finally crashing when gas prices spiked two years ago.

    American manufacturers are also burdened by union contracts that saddled them with inflexible work rules, cadillac benefits for union workers and massively expensive obligations toward retirees. I don’t entirely blame the unions for this as auto manufacturer top management did a wonderful job of fostering an adversarial relationship with labor over the decades. Nevertheless, the unions helped sink their own boat by going too far.

    Now, I’m wondering if what the Wall Street Journal reported is actually an effort by President Obama, through his henchmen, to cripple one of Obama Motors’ principal foreign competitors. We’ve already seen him bully and bribe congressmen to get an unpopular healthcare monstrosity passed. We’ve also seen the EPA propose regulating carbon after cap and trade legislation stalled in the Senate. It seems that we have a president who won’t hesitate to use any dirty trick he can legally get away with to accomplish his agenda.

    This, considering the oppressive nature of his liberal agenda, is truly frightening.