WASHINGTON -- The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the leading automaker lobby, got unwanted attention today from an unlikely source that called on Toyota to sometimes distance itself from the group on vehicle safety.
Toyota's advisory panel, led by former U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater, said Toyota should more closely align its goals with those of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
"Toyota should be more willing to show leadership in vehicle safety and take positions that differ from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers when appropriate," the panel's 60-page report said.
It added: "A strong and competent NHTSA is good for Toyota and the industry because it will be less likely to propose poor regulations or push for inappropriate recalls."
The panel report, issued after a yearlong study, said Toyota did not go far enough in restructuring management to address safety problems.
It did not identify specific instances faulting the Alliance's safety positions.
Alliance spokesman Wade Newton said the group has "a long record of working with NHTSA." He added that manufacturers are better able to advance vehicle safety when they work together.
"Working together has given us a remarkable record of accomplishments -- and the traveling public is better off for it," he said.
Newton cited voluntary agreements among Alliance members on design guidelines to reduce in-vehicle distractions and brake-transmission shift interlocks.
The Alliance also has been supporting different kinds of safety research and is working with the National Federation of the Blind to develop noise standards for hybrid vehicles, he said.
Toyota spokeswoman Martha Voss expressed similar sentiment.
"Sometimes working collaboratively helps us move various safety features along faster," she said.
A member of the Toyota panel, former Insurance Institute for Highway Safety president Brian O'Neill, said in a news conference today that Toyota and other manufacturers have tended to treat relations with NHTSA "as adversarial rather than a collaborative process."
In an interview afterward, O'Neill added that the Alliance "typically reflects the lowest common denominator among its members. It rarely can exhibit leadership."
The Alliance, whose 12 members include Toyota, General Motors and Ford, lobbies Congress and regulators on policy issues of importance to automakers.
Auto safety legislation responding to Toyota's safety problems stalled last fall following Alliance opposition to some provisions.
The Alliance opposed a $9 fee on every vehicle sold in the United States that would have beefed up funding for NHTSA. The cost to the auto industry would have been about $120 million in 2013.
"All these costs are ultimately paid by consumers," Alliance spokeswoman Gloria Bergquist said at the time.
Toyota's alignment with the Alliance became a question mark in January on the issue of fuel economy standards for 2017-25 vehicles.
The Obama administration's preliminary proposal would require automakers to raise these standards until they met goals of between 47 mpg and 62 mpg.
"Whatever goal they establish, Toyota will be prepared to meet," Jim Colon, Toyota's vice president for product communications, said at the Washington auto show this year. "If it's 62 miles a gallon, we'll be able to achieve that."
The Alliance's position has been that the 2025 target shouldn't be determined until further analysis is done.
After Colon's remarks, Toyota's Voss said Toyota was not endorsing the 62 mpg target and that further study is needed before a figure is selected.