Toyota exec: Automakers must not lose trust of owners
Washington — Toyota Motor Corp.’s top U.S. executive said in the wake of Volkswagen AG’s admission to cheating in emissions requirements in 11 million cars worldwide that automakers must be honest with the public.
“I don’t want consumers to lose trust in the industry. That’s my biggest overall concern. As manufacturers, we’ve got to do what we can to make sure that we keep that trust of our customers,” said Jim Lentz, who is CEO of Toyota Motor North America.
Lentz noted Toyota doesn’t sell diesel cars in the United States.
“We are confident that we have not done anything to put any of these devices on our vehicles. It’s difficult to say if others are doing it or not. Time will tell,” Lentz said.
In the wake of a series of scandals in the auto industry, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said earlier this week he is planning to bring auto executives in for a meeting in Washington — in part to ensure that regulators are getting honest answers.
Lentz said the impact of cheating by VW on Toyota sales was minimal.
“We probably sell more Camrys than they sell total vehicles” in the United States. Toyota’s primary U.S. rival is Honda.
“There’s really not much competition between the two of us,” Lentz said of VW.
He declined to assess how VW is handling the crisis.
“They don’t need my help on what they are doing,” Lentz said. “They are going to have decide what they are going to do.”
In March 2014, Toyota paid a $1.2 billion fine to settle a four-year Justice Department investigation into sudden acceleration problems and agreed to three years of monitoring by a former U.S. attorney, David Kelley.
Toyota has made changes since Kelley came on board in August 2014.
“We’ve had a good working relationship,” Lentz said. “He attends a lot of meetings. He’s spending a lot of time understanding our processes, making recommendations on change and then we’ll go ahead and make the changes. It’s been a good working relationship.”
Asked if he thought it was fair that Toyota was fined $1.2 billion for a defect to about a half dozen deaths, when General Motors Co. was fined $900 million for a defect linked to more than 120 deaths, Lentz didn’t venture an opinion.
“You’ll have to talk to DOJ on that,” Lentz said.
He said Toyota was able to rebound quickly after its crisis because of “the great actions of our dealers working with customers that allowed us to recover that trust to quickly.” Toyota’s crisis “was all about transparency inside and out of the company, it was all about speed, it was all about listening to customers. That’s what we concentrated on to make changes to become a better company and that’s what we’ve done.”
VW has taken some steps similar to Toyota after its sudden acceleration crisis — announcing it will decentralize operations and give more authority to regions. Like Toyota and GM, VW now faces a Justice Department investigation and a congressional hearing.
Lentz spoke Wednesday evening at the opening of Toyota’s new gleaming 30,000-square foot downtown Washington offices that features a lot of automotive features — including Toyota President Akio Toyoda’s racing uniform, a samurai sword in a conference room and even the back of a Tundra truck built into wall of another meeting room.