Toyota Motor Corp. has spent 20 years telling U.S. consumers how deeply it has sunk its roots into America.
But in congressional testimony last week, Toyota executives acknowledged that the home office in Japan continues to call the shots in its biggest market.
The disconnect between Toyota U.S.A. and Toyota Japan, as well as Toyota manufacturing and Toyota sales in the United States, partly accounts for the giant's current blizzard of problems, recalls, lawsuits and public scoldings, according to comments made during hours of congressional testimony last week.
Even as Toyota's U.S. manufacturing group is running print ads in Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana boasting that it is "dedicated to our community," corporate executives faced questions in Washington on how U.S. consumer concerns got lost in Japan.
Jim Lentz, president of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. and Toyota's highest-ranking U.S. sales executive, admitted under Capitol Hill questioning last week that decisions about whether to recall U.S. products for safety issues are all made in Japan.
Asked if any of Toyota's safety personnel report to him, Lentz said they do not. And he admitted that the centralized control of product issues in Japan had made it difficult for U.S. voices to be heard.
"We did not do a good job of sharing information around the globe," Lentz testified, attempting to explain why Toyota responded slowly to three years of U.S. consumer reports of unintended acceleration in some of its models. "Most of the flow was one-way."