In public, Toyota is running apologetic TV ads and vowing to win back customers’ trust. Behind the scenes, the besieged car maker is trying to learn all it can about Congressional investigations, maybe even steer them if it can.
It’s part of an all-out drive by the world’s biggest auto manufacturer to redeem its once unassailable brand, hit anew as its global recalls ballooned to 8.5 million cars and trucks.
In Washington, facing Congressional inquiries and government investigations, Toyota through its lawyers and lobbyists is working to salvage its reputation. The confidential strategy includes efforts to sway upcoming hearings on Capitol Hill.
Representative Bart Stupak said Toyota representatives visited his offices seeking to learn all they could. “They’re probing us. ‘What are you going to ask us, where are you going with this thing?’” said Stupak, chairman of a House subcommittee looking into Toyota’s problems.
Toyota, which reportedly spend more than $4 million on lobbying last year, declined to discuss details of its plans. The company has “beefed up our team” by hiring additional lobbyists, lawyers and public relations experts to “work with regulators and lawmakers collaboratively towards a successful recall effort,” spokeswoman Cindy Knight said.
Toyota has been encouraging dealers to contact local members of Congress, and also flew 23 workers from plants around the country to Capitol Hill to meet with lawmakers’ staffs, emphasising that the people who make the parts and build the vehicles care about quality.