Waxman: Documents show Toyota dismissed electronics in runaway acceleration cases, misled public about fixes
UPDATED at 3:25 p.m. with NHTSA response:
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) just gave Toyota and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood a glimpse of what their day is going to be like tomorrow on Capitol Hill when they testify before one of Waxman's subcommittees: tough. Real tough.
In a letter to Toyota North America sales head Jim Lentz and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, obtained by The Post's Peter Whoriskey, Waxman writes:
"First, the documents appear to show that Toyota consistently dismissed the possibility that electronic failures could be responsible for incidents of sudden unintended acceleration. Second, the one report that Toyota has produced that purports to test and analyze potential electronic causes of sudden unintended acceleration was initiated just two months ago and appears to have serious flaws. Third, Toyota’s public statements about the adequacy of its recent recalls appear to be misleading."
Translation: We think Toyota should have looked at electronics, and didn't. We think Toyota's testing of its thesis is bogus. We think Toyota might be lying when it says the recall fixes are working.
In Waxman's letter to Lentz, which you can read by clicking here, Waxman lays out a number of instances from Toyota internal documents -- obtained via subpoena -- in which Toyota personnel repeatedly told drivers that what they experienced -- runaway acceleration -- did not happen and could not happen:
A November 9, 2006, letter from Carole Hargrave of Toyota Motor Sales to a 2005 Toyota Tacoma driver states: "It is our understanding that you reported that you applied the gas pedal when it stuck, you then applied the brake but the vehicle kept going and hit four parked cars. Your vehicle was inspected by one of our field technicians in regards to your concerns. The throttle was inspected and moved freely without any binding and was found to operate as designed. The brakes will always override the accelerator. In order for this accident to happen as reported two totally separate systems, the brakes and throttle, would have to fail at exactly the same time. This is virtually impossible."
Waxman keeps some powder dry for LaHood's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, charged with regulating the safety of Toyotas, telling the agency that it is not equipped to determine whether Toyotas are safe or not:
"Sudden unintended acceleration in vehicles is a serious and highly dangerous event. Our preliminary assessment is that NHTSA has lacked the expertise needed to address this serious defect and has conducted only cursory and ineffective investigations."
NHTSA responds, via spokeswoman Olivia Alair:
“NHTSA has numerous engineers on staff with experience with electrical engineering and ETC issues, and also consults with outside experts whenever necessary. Since 1980, NHTSA has conducted 141 investigations related to throttle control issues. NHTSA is once again undertaking a comprehensive review of sudden acceleration, including the possible influence of electromagnetic interference, software anomalies or other electronic issues.”
The hearing is set to begin Tuesday at 11 a.m. I'll be live-blogging and tweeting it, so make sure you tune in. Looks like the committee is loaded for bear, as we say back in West Virginia.
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February 22, 2010; 3:25 PM ET
Categories: Congress , Corporations , The Ticker | Tags: Henry Waxman, Toyota recall update, toyota, toyota recall model and years, unintended acceleration
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