Toyota Trails Political Clout

By: Mike Bartley

The Toyota Motor Corp., the second largest automaker around the globe, is planning to build a plant in Mississippi. Experts in the industry say that the move of the automaker is aimed at expanding its operations in the United States at the same time increasing political influence in the territory.

As the presence increases, Toyota tunes in. The Japanese automaker is expected to use the clout to rival the Detroit's automakers on some issues. Toyota could also use the increased Capitol Hill lobbying power to give it a boost in its competitive lead over the General Motors Corp., the Ford Motor Co. and the DaimlerChrysler AG.

"We don't agree with them on everything," said Josephine Cooper, the vice president of government relations for Toyota Motor North America. "But our goal is to work together because it's usually better to be on the same page." Cooper spearheads an in-house lobbying office of seven people in Washington. The Japanese automaker also has hired some of the city's leading lobbying firms to aid in the realization of goals.

Toyota has built plants in Kentucky and Indiana. These plants integrate quality auto parts and accessories like the to its powerful lineup. The automaker is narrowing the gap with domestic car manufacturers in regard to spending on lobbying.

In 2004, Toyota spent approximately $2.4 million on lobbying. In 2005, its lobbying investment increased to $3.4 million, and last year it rose to $4.6 million. In 2006, GM spent $8.7 million and Ford spent $9.1 million to influence policy and legislation in Washington.

For the first time, the Japanese automaker also is considering the creation of a political action committee. Last year, GM's PAC spent over $1 million and Ford's spent over $845,000 to influence lawmakers in Washington.

One strong factor behind Toyota's quest of greater political clout may be the possibility that the Big Three, staggered by slumping sales, will ask Congress for subsidies or a bailout, said Joan Claybrook, the president of the Public Citizen watchdog group in Washington. She also said that Toyota's growing presence in the United States forces it to become more involved in politics. "They just realize they need to be more tuned in," Claybrook said.

Toyota's Georgetown, Kentucky plant is responsible for the assembly of the Toyota Camry sedan, including the new hybrid model, along with the Avalon sedan and Solara coupe. The Toyota Princeton, Ind. Plant, on the other hand, makes the Tundra pickup, Sienna minivan and Toyota Sequoia SUV.

For 2007, top issues for both the American and Japanese automakers include whether to raise mileage standards for cars and trucks. Another main issue is whether carbon emissions should be capped to combat global warming. On both issues, Toyota has the edge.

Toyota agrees with U.S. automakers that the administration, not Congress, should determine fuel economy standards. But the Japanese automaker has embraced President Bush's proposal last year to change how fuel economy is determined while U.S. automakers strongly refuted it.

Toyota also is better positioned than Detroit automakers to deal with possible moves in Congress to tighten regulation of carbon dioxide emissions, with use of hybrid fuel technology in some models. "There's a huge gap between the cleanest and dirtiest automakers," said Don MacKenzie, the author of the Union of Concerned Scientists report. "Toyota's ranking shows that size is no excuse for a dirty fleet."

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