First Toyota hearings…
Larry Dignan at ZDNet:
I listened to a Congressional hearing over the Toyota recall and thought I stumbled into a discussion about tech hurdles like change management, patch day and other wonky topics.
Let’s rev our engines for patch days for your cars. Are smarter cars really worth the hassle?
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearings on the Toyota recalls boiled down to one big question: How do we fix technologically advanced cars on the fly?
House Energy and Commerce committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) set the tone at the beginning of Tuesday’s hearings. He kicked off the hearings by saying “cars have become moving computers. The increased reliance on new electronics brings new risks and they need to be examined.”
Chris Morran at Consumerist:
While Toyota chief Akio Toyoda did his best to withstand over three hours of non-stop questioning in front of the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform yesterday, he didn’t fare as well when he spoke in front of Toyota employees only a short while later.
Toyoda, the grandfather of the car giant’s founder, broke into tears as he spoke before an audience of Toyota dealers and employees at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
“At the hearing, I was not alone. My colleagues in North America and around the world, were there with me,” he said to the supportive crowd.
Toyoda’s extended testimony before the Committee featured several breakdowns in communication between the House members — many of whom had to leave the room at various points to vote on different measures — and Toyoda. Some on the Committee, including Rep. John Mica of Florida and Eleanor Holmes Norton of Washington, D.C., seemed to have little patience in either waiting for their questions to be translated to Mr. Toyoda or for his responses to be restated by his translator.
David Thomas at Cars.com:
Toyota’s U.S. chief, Yoshimi Inaba, says the brake override system being installed in the eight models of the 15 recalled make up 72% of the total units covered under the recall. The older models not getting the upgrade are not compatible with the brake override system, he said.
Inaba did say a report from Europe about sticking acceletor pedals did pop up a year prior to the U.S. recalls, but the difference in models, right-hand drive and other factors led to the automaker not connecting the two.
Inaba also said that commercial readers for electronic data recorders – EDRs – will roll out by the middle of next year. Toyota’s prototype EDR reader can be read only by Toyota representatives, and there is only one in the U.S.
Inaba said the readers will be widely available next year and will be easily read. The government currently doesn’t require EDRs; they’ll be mandated in 2012.
Nick Loris at Heritage:
Automobile safety and reliability is undoubtedly a serious concern and the CEO of Toyota made that clear. They’ve recalled more than 8 million vehicles and have halted production in suspended manufacturing to focus on the problem. Only time will tell if Toyota failed to disclose pertinent information but signs point to Toyota handling the recall in an effective and timely manner. They’re planning to add brake override systems to new vehicles.
Toyota’s reputation has taken a hit and it has every incentive to fix the problem efficiently. Toyota estimated the recall will cost $2 billion by the end of March but that number could rise. Falling consumer demand will ultimately take the biggest toll on Toyota’s bottom line if the company does not take the right steps to repair its image. Toyota’s stock price fell 21% in the past month. Toyota will lose billions more if consumers lose trust and cease to buy the automaker’s vehicles. Despite calls for stricter oversight and more regulation, the market will determine the fate of Toyota — that’s the way it should be.
It’s easy to understand why a government that now owns a major stake in General Motors would want to put continuous bad press on a rival automaker, but given Toyota’s integral stake in the U.S. economy, it would not be prudent to come down extra hard on Toyota. In a Washington Post op-ed yesterday Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour (who has a Toyota plant in his state) writes, “We cannot lose sight of the company’s importance to America’s economy — and should not ignore its continued commitment to doing things the right way. Although Toyota was founded in Japan more than 70 years ago, after five decades of doing business in the United States it is as much an “American” car company as any other.” When priority number one for U.S. citizens and Members of Congress alike is the economy, rushing too quickly can have negative effects on foreign investment as well.
Toyota made mistake that tragically resulted in 34 deaths since the year 2000 and a number of other life-threatening scares. Let Toyota, and the market, correct it.
I’m watching the Toyota hearings, which at the moment feature secretary Ray LaHood. He just had a very interesting exchange with Representative Mark Souder, who has a GM auto plant in his district. Souder obviously has an interest in defending the interests of automakers, but he asked a good question: doesn’t excessive punishment of companies that have problem–either in law, or in the court of public opinion–discourage them from being aggressive about finding problems in the first place?LaHood said he wasn’t worried about this, then proclaimed that safety had to be the number one priority of both his agency, and the automakers, and that he would ceaselessly hunt down malefactors until this was true. This sounds wonderful, of course, but it is not actually true; as Souder pointed out, lowering the speed limit to 30 mph would save a lot of lives, but we don’t do it. Aren’t there tradeoffs, he asked.At which point Secretary LaHood achieved liftoff and rapidly departed reality. He responded that lowering the speed limit to 30 mph would not save any lives, which is why we have minimum speeds on highways. Representative Souder looked just as flummoxed as I was; did the Secretary of Transportation really not understand that the minimum speed limit exists to ensure that traffic is travelling at basically the same speed–which is indeed safer than allowing wide speed differentials? Could he possibly believe that it was actually safer to drive 40 mph than to drive 30 mph?Yes, apparently he could. When Souder pointed out that the minimum existed in order to minimize speed differentials, LaHood proclaimed, “I don’t buy your argument, Mr. Souder”. Secretary LaHood seems to be arguing that the laws of the United States override the laws of physics. I spend a fair amount of time hanging around isolationists who take a pretty hardline stance on US sovereignty, but even for me, this was novel.This is about the tenor of most of the hearing–I haven’t seen so much posturing since I graduated Miss Elliot’s Charm School for Gentlewomen and Girls. It’s clear to me that there have been some real problems with Toyota cars. But it also seems like the hysteria and the hype are rapidly becoming unmoored from any actual danger.
And now Blackwater Xe. Max Fisher at The Atlantic with the round-up:
A Senate Armed Services Committee is holding hearings Wednesday on an unusual incident. According to a six-month congressional investigation, Blackwater security contractors in Afghanistan reportedly stole hundreds of weapons meant for the Afghan national police. The Blackwater contractors–who were not licensed to carry arms in the country–apparently operated under the company name Paravant to escape scrutiny. They seem to have secured the weapons by checking them out under the name “Eric Cartman,” which will be familiar to viewers of the cartoon show South Park.
Nathan Hodge at Wired:
According to the Senate investigation, Paravant employees were involved in a second, previously undisclosed shooting that happened in December 2008. Paravant program manager Johnnie Walker told committee staff the incident happened after an employee decided to get on the back of a moving car with a loaded AK-47 and “ride it like a stagecoach.” The employee accidentally discharged the rifle when the vehicle hit a bump. The round struck another Paravant team member, who was seriously injured.
“The reckless disregard for weapons safety is particularly striking given that he and his team were hired for the specific purpose of teaching the Afghan National Army how to safely use their weapons,” Levin’s statement dryly notes.
Another issue the committee probed was Bunker 22, an armory near the notorious Pol-e-Charki prison that held weapons meant for the Afghan National Police. According to the committee investigation, more than 200 AK-47s were taken out of Bunker 22 in September 2008 and signed for by a Paravant/Blackwater employee named “Eric Cartman.” Some of the weapons apparently withdrawn by our favorite South Park character were unaccounted for for months afterward, according to the committee.
Blackwater’s reputation is already in tatters, thanks to a string of deadly incidents. And the conduct of some private security contractors in Afghanistan hasn’t done much for the industry either. But getting a handle on this is crucial. As Levin noted, the campaign in Afghanistan is primarily a struggle to win the support of the population. “If we are going to win that struggle,” he said, “We needed to know that our contractor personnel are adequately screened, supervised and held accountable.”
In an interview with Senate staff, former “Paravant” vice president Brian McCracken said that the only reason a company called Paravant ever existed was because Blackwater wanted a piece of Raytheon’s contract with the Army to train Afghan security officials — without the “baggage” of the Blackwater name. (You know, like killing Iraqi civilians.) So Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) asked Steven Ograyensek, the contracting officer at an Army office responsible for overseeing the contract, whether he had any idea Paravant was part of Blackwater. There was “no indication” of that relationship in Paravant’s bid for the Raytheon subcontract, Ograyensek replied. Yet it took Senate staff a fairly short time to determine Paravant was a shell company for Blackwater.
Did Ograyensek even check Paravant’s references? “We didn’t call those references,” he said. “That was the responsibility of Raytheon.” Your contracting oversight at work.
“Paravant had never done anything,” Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) interjected. “But they represent in their [request for the contract] that they had 2000 personnel deployed overseas. They had no one. … It’s just a shell.”
As for those nearly 100,000 trained Afghan troops that Washington keeps boasting about, it turns out that the Pentagon sub-sub-contracted the troop training and “a Blackwater subsidiary hired violent drug users to help train the Afghan army.” Many journalists doubt that there are actually so many troops in the Afghanistan National Army, citing high turnover and desertion rates, while others suggest that two weeks of ‘show and tell’ training for illiterate recruits is not exactly a rigorous ‘training’– even if it were done properly, which it seems not always to have been.
Adam Serwer at The American Prospect:
The Senate is holding a hearing today where several current and former Blackwater employees will be testifying, but honestly the only way Congress would stop giving Blackwater money is if it started registering black people to vote.