Toyota Continues to Deny Electronic Defect in Recalled Cars


Lawmakers investigating incidents of sudden unintended acceleration in Toyota Motor (TM ) vehicles sent a letter to the company's chief U.S. sales officer Friday, seeking information about the auto maker's continued denials that an electronic defect may be the source of the problem.

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) and Subcommittee Chairman Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) told Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. President James Lentz in the letter that documents provided to the committee "fail to show that Toyota has systemically investigated the possibility of electronic defects."

Further, the lawmakers asked that Toyota make officials who have personal knowledge of Toyota's efforts to test its vehicles available to the committee for interviews. The congressmen also requested detailed quarterly reports on claims of sudden unintended acceleration, and information on the installation of brake override systems and "black box" data, which can provide information such as speed and accelerator pedal position at the time of a crash.

Throughout congressional hearings during the last two weeks, Lentz was one of few Toyota officials who acknowledged that the company's electronic throttle control system (ETCS) could be a source of sudden unintended acceleration. Executives from Japan who testified before House and Senate committees repeatedly denied ETCS could be the cause of the problem.

Earlier Friday, the world's largest auto maker acknowledged it had received verifiable reports from U.S. officials that some drivers have experienced unintendedd acceleration even after their cars were repaired under two recall campaigns. Still, Toyota said most reports regarding acceleration problems following repairs have yet to be verified, but that it has "moved quickly to evaluate the vehicles and interview the owners," Dow Jones Newswires reported. Further, Toyota continued to deny the company's electronic throttle control system could be a source of the problem.

Reports Surface of Continued Problems in "Fixed" Cars

The company's recall of some 6 million Toyota vehicles for unintended acceleration involves either trimming gas pedals so that they don't get hung up on bulky all-weather floor mats or inserting a metal shim between accelerator pedal parts to eliminate stickiness. Toyota reported earlier this week it had repaired more than 1 million vehicles under the recall campaigns.

The company has done so even as reports of sudden unintended acceleration have occurred in cars that have no mats, and even as Toyota's own lawyers have admitted that "sticky" gas pedals aren't likely the source of acceleration problems. More than 50 deaths in the U.S. have been blamed on the problem after drivers lost control of their speeding cars.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration chief David Strickland said Wednesday the agency wanted to hear from owners who have experienced the problems despite repairs. Since then, reports have continued to flow in with more than 60 drivers alleging sudden acceleration incidents even after being recalled, NHTSA said Thursday. The agency said it could order Toyota to develop a new fix if NHTSA determines trimming gas pedals or inserting metal shims isn't effective.

Toyoda Tearfully Address Workers at Company Headquarters

In the face of the ongoing controversy, Toyota President Akio Toyoda, grandson of the company's founder, rallied workers Friday. Toyoda donned a factory floor uniform to address thousands of employees and suppliers at the company's headquarters in central Japan, vowing to rebuild the company's reputation for building safe, quality cars and trucks.

Toyoda again apologized and repeated the company's now familiar message that it had grown too quickly, leading to the current crisis that involves not only recalls for unintended acceleration, but other problems as well. Through tears, Toyoda thanked workers for their support and promised that Toyota would rise again if the ranks stood together, according to the Associated Press. "I thought I was protecting everyone," he said. "But I realized I had merely been protected by everyone."