Relief and recrimination in Japan follow Toyota findings in U.S.

TOKYO -- Japan is giving a collective sigh of relief at last week's Toyota acceleration report.

Surely the wave of Toyota bashing that engulfed the United States will finally ebb, some pundits are optimistically predicting, after the U.S. Transportation Department's 10-month study cleared electronic throttle control as a possible cause for unintended acceleration in certain Toyota models.

But others wagged an I-told-you-so finger.

To them, the findings proved what they suspected all along: Last year's uproar was as much about tearing down Toyota and boosting GM, aka “Government Motors,” as it was about safety.

“The U.S. government, Congress and media have criticized Toyota harshly. The most strident critics were lawmakers whose electoral districts include the strongholds of major U.S. automakers; they apparently aimed to capitalize politically by going after Toyota,” Japan's Yomiuri newspaper said. “These lawmakers must reflect deeply on their conduct.”

Some Japanese were quick to question Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's about-face on the matter. After initially playing the stern inquisitor who warned Americans to “stop driving” recalled Toyotas, he blithely reassured last week that his daughter, in fact, owns one.

“Such a drastic reversal in a regulator's attitude raises serious questions about the integrity of U.S. authorities,” the Asahi newspaper said in an editorial. “Due partly to overheated news coverage, mainly by U.S. media, cool-headed debate over safety issues was difficult.”

The Japanese government is among those hoping for closure. It eyes positive effects for other Japanese companies whose reputations were bruised along with Toyota's.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano welcomed the report, saying: “It is extremely good that it was made clear that Toyota's system is not the reason” behind the acceleration cases.

He added that Toyota should take the “opportunity” to further build overseas confidence in the “safety and high performance of Japanese cars.”

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