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Assembly considers 'Buy American' car policy

February 4, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Tokyo's leading business newspaper Thursday night said Toyota will recall 270,000 Prius hybrids in the U.S. and Japan due to brake problems.Toyota has not confirmed the report, saying only that it is too early to add Prius to the list of other Toyota models recalled due to safety issues.

Toyota does acknowledge that it's launching a probe into the Lexus HS 250h model because it uses the same brake system as the Prius.

The carmaker has begun repairing millions of recalled cars with potential sticking gas pedals.

Some state lawmakers say now's the time to buy American.

Many state lawmakers show their "green" credentials by driving Toyota Priuses. The Assembly alone has nearly 90 of them.

"With taxpayer money, the idea is we should be supporting American jobs," said Barry Broad, legislative director, California Teamsters Public Affairs Council

But with all the Toyota safety problems lately, state Assemblyman Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) pushed the Assembly Rules Committee to approve a "Buy American-only" policy.

"We're trying to send a message to Toyota that they need to put safety in California above profits," said Lieu.

California used to have a "Buy American" policy until 2003. It was changed to "green" the state fleet and accommodate more environmentally friendly cars.

"Buy American" means at least half of the car must be manufactured in the United States, and it would apply only to future vehicle purchases.

Toyota could not be reached for comment, but Republicans abstained from the vote.

"Taxpayers don't care about 'Buy American,'" said state Assemblyman Anthony Adams (R-Hesperia). "They want to know they are spending our dollars wisely and that we're getting the best bargain possible, and that we're not wasting their precious tax dollars."

Backing away from the Japanese carmaker was a difficult move for Lieu, considering Toyota Motor Sales is based in his Torrance district.

Besides the safety issues, he's also upset that Toyota is shutting down the Bay Area NUMMI (New United Motor Manufacturing Inc.) plant -- the last automobile plant in California -- even after they received tax breaks and the sales incentive of single drivers in Priuses being allowed to use the carpool lane with a special sticker.

"We helped kick-start their hybrid market, and now they got all the benefits from that, plus their profits, they're leaving and divesting from California. I believe that's wrong," said Lieu.

The Assembly has little clout because it buys just a few dozen cars every few years; but the symbolism is what they're after.