Toyota accused of misleading public over recalls

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A 2007 Toyta Camry.
Image: OSX.

Toyota has been accused by a U.S. House of Representatives committee with misleading the public and investigators over its recent recalls.

The accusations, in a statement from the House Energy and Commerce Committee, claim that Toyota both relied on a flawed study in its assessment of the issue of sticking accelerator pedals at the heart of the recalls, and then made misleading statements about its response. According to the authors of the letter, Henry Waxman and Bart Stupak, Toyota dismissed, rather than investigated, the idea that the cars' computers were at fault. In a statement, James Lentz, the president of Toyota's American division, claimed that hardware issues were to blame, and that dealers were repairing the faulty part. Toyota also released a study commissioned from the research firm Exponent that said electronic systems were not to blame.

According to the House committee, however, the study involved only six vehicles, none of which had problems with their electrical systems, and was insufficient to produce an accurate result. "Our preliminary assessment is that Toyota resisted the possibility that electronic defects could cause safety concerns, relied on a flawed engineering report and made misleading public statements concerning the adequacy of recent recalls to address the risk of sudden unintended acceleration."

The company is under a criminal investigation, and has received two subpoenas for documents from two House committees relating to the recalls, although whether they are directly related to the letter is unclear. The documents are related to accelerator issues in several models, as well as brake problems with the Prius hybrid car, and were served earlier in in February by a federal grand jury and the Securities and Exchange Commission. Toyota has released upwards of 75,000 pages of documents under the requests.

In a separate, though related, development, it has emerged that Toyota last year negotiated a limited recall for two models, the Toyota Camry and Lexus ES, that were affected by the accelerator recalls, saving the company an estimated $100 million. A confidential internal presentation in July 2009 made the claim, and a month later, a Lexus ES, one of the models under the limited recall crashed in California, killing four people. The claims apparently referenced a September, 2007 recall of floor mats that could trap gas pedals, the same problem that triggered a full recall of numerous Toyota cars to fix the same problem. In the same presentation, the company claimed to have avoided recalls of another model related to rust, as well as delaying new federal safety regulations.


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