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Storm Gives Toyota More Time to Speed Up Lobbying Effort

Toyota, beleaguered with the fallout over a massive recall, will have a little more time to roll out its public offensive in Washington, D.C., after House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) postponed Wednesday’s hearing on Toyota’s vehicle acceleration problems because of the impending snowstorm.

Towns and ranking member Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) have rescheduled the hearing for Feb. 24.

Toyota has been forced to recall millions of vehicles after the accelerator problem was found. The automaker has also announced another recall of more than 100,000 Priuses to fix a brake problem.

In the face of looming scrutiny, Toyota has mounted a public relations and lobbying offensive to try to repair its image and head off more Congressional involvement.

As part of that, the company has embarked on a major advertising campaign. Last week it also brought on the Glover Park Group to help with its communications strategy. Glover Park’s Kevin Madden and Joe Lockhart are among the leads on the account.

Toyota spent a little more than $4 million on lobbying in 2009, according to Senate lobbying disclosure records. In addition to its in-house team, Toyota has several firms on retainer, including Brown Rudnick and Greenberg Traurig.

A Toyota spokesman in Washington, D.C., did not return calls or an e-mail seeking comment.

So far, Toyota has not called on trade groups such as the National Automobile Dealers Association to aid in its lobbying campaign. NADA Chairman John McEleney, who sells Toyotas at his dealership in Clinton, Iowa, said that he has been impressed with the professional response Toyota has given to the recall problem.

“Recalls are quite common in the auto industry and involve virtually every manufacturer at one time or another,” McEleney said. “We urge all government officials, whether in Congress or the administration, to be careful what they say while the investigation goes forward. It’s important not to rush to judgment.”

“Ill-advised comments reverberate through the entire American buying public, impacting auto dealerships, their employees and our local and national economy,” he added.

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