This morning, after a New York Times story indicated that Toyota chairman Akio Toyoda might answer a formal invitation to appear before Congress--and with the ranking Republican member calling for such an invitation--House Oversight Committee chairman Ed Towns formally invited Mr. Toyoda.
"There appears to be growing public confusion regarding which vehicles may be affected and how people should respond," Mr. Towns wrote. "In short, the public is unsure as to what exactly the problem is, whether it is safe to drive their cars, or what they should do about it."
It's an unenviable position for almost any corporate bigwig. "He's not going to know the answers to the satisfaction of members of Congress," a former Ford p.r. person told The Times, suggesting Mr. Toyoda bring a coterie of company officials to help him.
The invitation doesn't legally compel Mr. Toyoda to attend, but should he decline, the committee could then subpoena him.
"It's 3 a.m. in Japan and he just got it, basically a few hours ago," said Cindy Knight, a spokesperson for Toyota. "We're aware of the invitation and, due to the time zone differences, we haven't yet received a response from Japan but we're hoping for one in a few hours."
Of course, the real question is how low he might go. Will Mr. Toyoda go with his usual 40-degree bow? Or the more contrite, 60-degree bow he deployed at a press conference last week? Or will the imposing Mr. Towns compel something even more chastened and painful?