Who Will Advocate For Toyota Owners In Japan?

Toyota has been criticized–and rightly so–for its handling of the recall clusterfracas in the United States and Europe. But how many cars have been recalled for possible unintended acceleration issues in Japan, where consumer protections are much weaker than in the U.S., Canada, and the E.U.? According to today’s New York Times, that would be zero. Even though some Japanese drivers have had similar runaway acceleration incidents, consumer protection in Japan is weak and the government tends to side with industry. This means that car owners experiencing problems have nowhere to turn.

Consumer advocacy is not a popular field in Japan, because it can get you arrested.

When it comes to cars, the rapid growth of the auto industry here and of car ownership in the 1960s and ’70s was accompanied by a spate of fatal accidents. A consumer movement soon emerged among owners of these defective vehicles.

The most active was the Japan Automobile Consumers Union, led by Fumio Matsuda, a former Nissan engineer often referred to as the Ralph Nader of Japan. But the automakers fought back with a campaign discrediting the activists as dangerous agitators. Mr. Matsuda and his lawyer were soon arrested and charged with blackmail. They fought the charges to Japan’s highest court, but lost.

Now, few people are willing to take on the country’s manufacturers at the risk of arrest, Mr. Matsuda said in a recent interview. “The state sided with the automakers, not the consumers,” he said.

Let’s hope that foreign attention to Toyota’s safety problems, along with the country’s brand-new consumer protection agency, will help stop any preventable accidents.

Millions of Toyotas Recalled, None in Japan [New York Times] (Thanks, Michael!)