Toyota’s lobbying blitz gets results in Manchin-Schumer deal

In 2021, Toyota spent $6.2 million on US lobbying efforts, according to the OpenSecrets research group, a 41 percent increase from the $4.4 million it spent in 2010. That sharply outpaced growth of lobbying spending on the auto industry overall, which rose 26 percent over the same period.

Stephen Ciccone, Toyota’s Washington-based group vice president of government affairs, said the company’s large West Virginia presence — which includes about 2,000 jobs at a 27-year-old engine and transmission plant near Charleston, W.Va. — has been helpful in getting Manchin’s attention.

But courting Manchin is just one part of his more far-reaching campaign to advance the company’s interests.

Ciccone has made a point to regularly escort Toyota’s American executives, dealers and rank-and-file employees through the corridors of power for meetings with lawmakers and administration officials. That’s a significant shift for a company that for years kept a low profile on Capitol Hill and deferred to industry trade groups to speak out on policy matters.

“When I joined Toyota, the attitude was that we were a guest in the country,” Ciccone said in an interview, noting Toyota boasts 11 plants, including a planned battery factory in North Carolina, and 40,000 employees in the US. “The attitude was ‘we’re the visiting team,’ when really we’re as much of the home team as anyone. That’s how we approach government engagement now.”

full court press

Ciccone’s full-court press was born out of a public-relations crisis. The company saw the downsides of a hands-off approach after its president, AkioToyodawas hauled before Congress and grilled about unintended acceleration in its vehicles, a problem that forced it to recall more than 10 million vehicles worldwide and pay $1.2 billion in US penalties.

“We had a tight relationship with our customers and retailers, but we didn’t really have a robust relationship outside of that inner circle,” said Bob Carter, a former executive vice president of Toyota’s North American business who retired at the end of June . “We didn’t have that deep of a relationship with the government or media.”

As part of the efforts to restore Toyota’s name, Ciccone came aboard in 2011 from Eastman Kodak. He cuts an unusual figure in a town known for staid fashion choices.

“I don’t know any other [male] lobbyist who wears their hair in a ponytail,” he said. “In a sea of ​​middle-aged white guys, it helps me to stand out.”

Ciccone set about crafting a strategy that included more engagement, such as those employee trips to meet with members of Congress. Toyota executives “lobbyed me to be included in our fly-in, to take three days out of their busy jobs to spend time in Washington,” he said.

His approach was rewarded in November, when Manchin — a crucial vote in a deadlocked US Senate — came out against a measure that would have offered $4,500 more in tax credits for the purchase of an EV made in the US by union labor.

While attending an event at the West Virginia Toyota plant in celebration of a $240 million investment in a new production line, the senator criticized the tax credit as “wrong” and “not American” – a decree that effectively killed it.

Manchin’s office declined to comment on his relationship with Toyota.