Toyota Motor Corp.’s embattled dealers are headed to Washington this week to try to convince Congress that what’s bad for the Japanese auto giant is bad for America.
With safety issues threatening its reputation and subsequent probes by Congress, a federal grand jury and U.S. securities regulators, Toyota is reaching out to its U.S. dealers and workers to bolster the company’s lobbying efforts ahead of hearings on Capitol Hill this week.
“Our hope is that Congress doesn’t jump to conclusions, that it allows time for the facts to come out,” said Susan Scarola, who owns a total of eight Toyota and Lexus dealerships in New York, New Jersey and California, which together employ 700 people. “Congress can’t let politics get in the way.”
With the first of three congressional hearings on Toyota’s safety problems set to start Tuesday, dealers mainly want to make the case that tens of thousands of jobs are at stake.
Ms. Scarola, who is president of the DCH Auto Group of dealerships, is one of more than 100 Toyota dealers from around the nation who are massing in Washington this week to lobby their local lawmakers. Toyota itself has also flown in dozens of plant workers to try to help make the point that the recall furor could cost jobs in congressional districts across the country.
Toyota’s five big manufacturing sites, and its nearly 1,200 dealerships, employ around 172,000 people in the U.S.
The country’s auto dealers, with nationwide networks that reach into many small towns, have shown themselves to be a potent lob+bying force in the last year.
Dealers helped champion last summer’s cash-for-clunkers program, which boosted auto sales at a cost to taxpayers of $3 billion. (Toyota’s Corolla was the program’s biggest seller.) Dealers also got Congress to force General Motor Co. and Chrysler Group LLC to reconsider the forced closures of thousands of their dealers last year.