Toyota Motor Corp. will have to do more to placate Congress -- probably much more -- after President Akio Toyoda's dramatic appearance last week in Washington.
Many lawmakers still express outrage at what they consider to be the automaker's refusal to come to terms with its safety problems.
That distress is fueling lawmakers' requests for more information from Toyota, better communication with U.S. regulators, tough investigations by federal agencies, additional hearings and perhaps legislation.
"Toyota didn't quell the fury on Capitol Hill," said Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich. "I don't think they did well in trying to work that through."
Criticism focused on the largely unwavering position of Toyoda and other executives that electronic interference is not linked to accidents from unintended acceleration.
Stupak spoke with Automotive News last week after hearings by the Energy and Commerce Committee oversight panel and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which questioned Toyoda on Wednesday, Feb. 24.
Toyoda, 53, accepted a congressional invitation to testify after initially balking.
"It's excellent that Mr. Toyoda appeared," said Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, a member of the Government Reform Committee. "But his testimony was inadequate. Toyota has a long way to go to remedy the situation, both from an engineering standpoint and politically."
Talk of legislation bandied about during the hearings included a requirement for more country-to-country sharing of reports of safety defects; a clampdown on the revolving door between government and industry; and an increase in maximum fines that could be levied by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was receptive to the first two ideas, leaving the door open to new federal regulations. But he discouraged the third.
Another Toyota hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, March 2, by the Senate Commerce Committee. Scheduled to testify are Shinichi Sasaki, Toyota executive vice president, and Yoshi Inaba, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. president.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is considering a second hearing. The Transportation Department is investigating the timeliness and adequacy of Toyota's U.S. recalls, as well as possible electronic interference on Toyota vehicles. The department's auditors also are reviewing oversight of Toyota safety defects and recalls by NHTSA, which is part of the Transportation Department.
Last week, the Senate Commerce Committee asked that this review include whether NHTSA has an overly cozy relationship with the auto industry.
Stupak, a former Michigan state trooper, said he plans to ask the Transportation Department and Toyota for any information revealed by black boxes that have been attached to U.S. vehicles involved in runaway crashes.
Last week Toyota moved to ease bottlenecks on its release of data by starting to ship hundreds of black-box decoding machines to the United States while making them commercially available.
Toyota's position on the causes of its acceleration problems has remained largely the same for many months. The problems are attributable to floor-mat interference with gas pedals and to sticky pedals -- not to electronic interference from the engine, the company has repeated.
Toyoda reiterated this view in his testimony.
"I instructed that every effort be made to re-create and duplicate the accidents," Toyoda said through a translator. "However, no malfunction or problems were identified based on tests conducted internally at Toyota."
After last week's hearings, Stupak expressed disappointment at the testimony about electronic interference from Toyoda, Inaba and Jim Lentz, president of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A.
Said Stupak: "We were hoping to get some answers to clarify this issue, and we really received none."