Akio Toyoda paused a 60-year-plus history of genteel, go-along-to-get-along relations with the U.S. last week to strongly criticize unprecedented trade actions by the Trump administration that threaten the economic future of his company and other Japanese automakers.
But, how do I put this, Toyoda-san? The tone of your strongly worded messages still might have been a bit too subtle to register with their intended target.
Last week, Toyota Motor Corp. and the Japanese Automobile Manufacturers Association — both led by Toyoda — issued responses to the Trump administration's finding that imported Japanese vehicles and parts "threaten to impair" the national security of the U.S. Both statements might read like a string of epithets and curses to Japanese ears when compared with the rest of Toyota's long history of doing business in the U.S., as well as the history of JAMA.
But let's be honest with ourselves: Phrases such as "profoundly disappointed," "dismayed" or "deeply saddened" when describing President Donald Trump's quixotic threats to financially harm a very profitable, very stable portion of your global operations sound like weak sauce to American ears.
This is easily explainable: Japan still embraces and respects the cultural concept of shame. Us, or rather U.S.? Not so much.
Toyota's statement on the administration's executive proclamation — which opens the door for retaliatory Section 232 tariffs after a six-month delay to see how discussions go with the Japanese government on a bilateral trade agreement — laid out a completely logical case in the automaker's defense. Yes, Toyota has invested $60 billion in the U.S., operates several r&d centers and 10 manufacturing plants, and employs more than 475,000 Americans, including those at its 1,500 dealers. But so what? Ever seen "The Sopranos"? Ever heard of a protection racket? This is how it works. And guys like that don't respond to logical rejoinders on why their actions make you "profoundly disappointed."
With all due respect, Toyoda-san, you need to study Goodfellas or The Godfather the way you did the Nürburgring — and take some notes. You and your countrymen are being shaken down. Now, what do you plan to do about it?