U.S. says no GM ownership conflicts in Toyota case

LOS ANGELES, Feb 19 (Reuters) - The U.S. government's majority stake in General Motors Co GM.UL has no bearing on the response of regulators to safety problems at Toyota Motor Corp 7203.TTM.N, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said on Friday.

“That argument is baloney,” LaHood said when asked about the issue during an appearance in Los Angeles.

Questions about whether the government stands to benefit as a GM shareholder from its regulatory crackdown on Toyota gained some steam this week with a number of critics suggesting at least the appearance of a conflict of interest.

The U.S. Treasury assumed a majority stake in GM and a nearly 10 percent interest in Chrysler in return for bailout and bankruptcy financing assistance last year.

LaHood said the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has recalled 23 million vehicles in the last three years, and “I venture to say many of those were American-made cars.”

“If a car needs to be recalled, if a car manufacturer needs to be investigated, we will be there to do it,” LaHood said.

LaHood is on the witness list for a hearing next Wednesday on Toyota’s recall before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Also expected to attend is Toyota President Akio Toyoda, who LaHood plans to meet.

“I’m very pleased that he’s decided to appear before Congress, and I’m very pleased that I’ll have a chance to meet with him personally,” LaHood said.

LaHood called Toyoda earlier this month to convey what the U.S. official said was the Obama administration’s seriousness about ongoing Toyota safety investigations. (Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)