INDIANAPOLIS | Gov. Mitch Daniels defended beleaguered auto manufacturer Toyota in a letter to Congress Wednesday and blasted "disturbing statements" made by administration officials that he says have a conflict of interest in the Toyota recalls.
In a letter written to two Congressional committees preparing to investigate Toyota, Daniels said he is "proud" to have Toyota operations in Indiana and "can testify to the exemplary citizenship of one of the most admired companies in our nation."
"No other automobile manufacturing business in our memory has addressed safety issues in such an emphatic manner by not only recalling vehicles, but also voluntarily stopping production and sales of those vehicles until safety issues were addressed," Daniels said. "Toyota has unquestionably placed the safety of its customers above its profits."
Toyota has recently recalled 2.3 million U.S. vehicles over potentially sticky gas pedals, 5.3 million U.S vehicles for gas pedal entrapment under floor mats and 147,000 vehicles for brakes that seem to fail momentarily.
Daniels said those recall numbers are in line with the 16.4 million auto recalls from all manufacturers issued in 2009. However, "questionable news coverage" and "disturbing statements and hasty actions" by federal officials that they "have later been forced to retract" are making the situation seem worse than it really is.
Earlier this month, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said Toyota owners should not drive their vehicle until is has been repaired. He later backed off that statement.
However, those comments raise questions about a potential conflict of interest, as the U.S. government is the primary owner of General Motors, a Toyota competitor, Daniels writes.
The letter from Daniels was also signed by the governors of Kentucky, Mississippi and Alabama. Toyota operates manufacturing facilities in all four states.
In Indiana, Toyota produces the Sequoia and Highlander sport utility vehicles and Sienna minivan at a facility in the southern Indiana town of Princeton, near Evansville. Toyota employs 4,300 workers at that plant.
The Hoosier state is also headquarters of CTS Corp., of Elkhart, which makes the Toyota gas pedal at a factory in Ontario. CTS says they made the pedal to Toyota's specifications.