Feb. 6, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Auto Lobbyist’s Assembly-Line Perspective Influences Hill Outreach

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Toyota President and CEO Akio Toyoda (center) and Toyota Motor North America CEO Yoshimi Inaba (right) prepare to testify at a House committee hearing in 2010.

One of Stephen Ciccone’s first jobs after getting hired at Toyota was to install roof antennas and clip wiring into the trunks of Camrys as they snaked along an assembly line in Georgetown, Ky. It was an unremarkable assignment for the average auto worker, but it was more of a challenge for Ciccone, who’s the company’s new top lobbyist.

“I had 58 seconds to do three things,” recalled Ciccone, who joined one of the world’s biggest automakers on Oct. 24.

Even as a lobbyist, “I’m part of that line,” he said. “That’s an extraordinary insight that I’m not sure I could’ve grasped as memorably had I not worked on the line.”

The factory experience was all part of what Ciccone calls his “onboarding.” The ponytailed native of upstate New York spent his first several months meeting with 120 executives, driving a $400,000 hydrogen car down Highway 101 in Los Angeles, observing crash tests and huddling with dealers.

He has only recently begun reaching out to Capitol Hill and government officials.

“It was a very deliberate approach to give me the time to become ‘Toyotaed’ so that I could represent the company with credibility and with the deeper understanding of not only our business but, perhaps even more important, our culture,” Ciccone said.

Some of that outreach will be on display this month at the Capitol South Metro Station. Toyota is planning a “station domination,” where it will buy up available ad space, Ciccone said. Also this month, 60 company executives will fly in to lobby on the Hill.

Ciccone and his staff of five in-house lobbyists will help shepherd the group. Toyota retains several outside firms, too, including Brown Rudnick, Capitol Hill Consulting Group, Greenberg Traurig, Hogan Lovells, Pendulum Strategies, the Glover Park Group and Van Ness Feldman, according to recent lobbying disclosures. Last year, Toyota spent $4.4 million on federal lobbying.

The new top lobbyist said he is “not anticipating any immediate change” to the in-house shop. “I was fortunate to inherit a very good team,” he noted.

But, he said, when it comes to the outside consultants, “We are revisiting the specific firms, and so there’s some chance we’ll make some adjustments.”

Ciccone replaced Josephine Cooper, who left the company after the crisis in 2009 and 2010 that included the recall of more than 7.5 million of its vehicles for unintended acceleration and other problems. Toyota executives testified at Congressional hearings on the matter.

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