Toyota Recall Reaction Shows It's Lonely at the Top

Last Updated Jan 29, 2010 9:45 AM EST

No. 1 is the loneliest number for Toyota.

The fact that Toyota (TM) passed General Motors in recent memory to become the world's largest automaker is adding exponentially to the backlash from its sudden-acceleration recall.

To put it another way, payback is a you-know-what.

That attitude is evident from the halls of Congress right down into the auto industry trenches.

Congress got into the act yesterday, as U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, announced it will hold hearings Feb. 25 to look into consumer complaints against Toyota.

Incidentally, a California congressman might be feeling less favorably disposed to Toyota than he might have felt a few months ago, before Toyota announced last summer that it is closing a factory in Fremont, Calif. in March 2010.

The NUMMI (New United Motor Manufacturing Inc.) plant was a joint venture among Toyota, GM and the UAW, founded in the early 1980s. GM pulled the plug first on its part of the joint venture, but the UAW put most of the blame on Toyota for deciding ultimately to close the plant.

Meanwhile, in the trenches, Toyota's competitors are pulling few punches when it comes to going after potentially disillusioned Toyota owners.

GM, for instance, is offering a GM Conquest Private Offer Program discount of $1,000 to consumers who currently own or lease a 1999 or newer Toyota or Lexus, to purchase or lease an eligible GM product.

"This is an opportunity that might not come along again for years," said Tom Waurishuk, general manager of Saturn of White Plains, N.Y. "The kind of people who buy a Toyota probably never sat in a GM car," he said in an interview yesterday.

"If we can get them now, at the very least we get another shot at them in three or four years, and if we treat them right we will have a loyal customer," he said. "This is a great, great opportunity."

Photo: henrywaxman.house.gov