Federal government steps up its investigation of Toyota

posted on:
February 16, 2010

author:
KURT NILAND

The federal government has stepped up its investigation of Toyota Motor Corp. in the wake of a series of recalls affecting about 8.5 million U.S. cars and trucks. On Tuesday, the Transportation Department demanded Toyota provide documents pertaining to the safety recalls, including internal communications that may reveal how seriously the company handled consumer complaints of sudden acceleration.

The federal government’s intensified efforts have been prompted by criticism from several Toyota drivers and consumer groups that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Transportation Department’s safety arm, was too lax in its regulation of Toyota.

Sudden, unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles has been reported throughout the last decade, yet the NHTSA never fined Toyota nor sought detailed records through its power to subpoena.

Some sources, such as Dimitrios Biller, a former top attorney for Toyota, allege that Toyota has been ignoring U.S. concerns for years.

“This is a company that doesn’t have any respect for the laws in the United States. This is a company that has no qualms about violating court orders, concealing or destroying evidence,” Biller told the Associated Press.

“The evidence involved would have allowed plaintiffs to take their cases to trial,” he added. “This was all done in the interest of saving money.”

Government investigators want to know if Toyota was aware of the defects that are the root of its large safety recalls – gas pedal entrapment by floor mat and sticky accelerator pedals – before, during, or after the vehicles were produced. They also seek information on whether the recalls encompassed all of the affected vehicles and are trying to determine whether Toyota knew about the problems before consumer complaints.

U.S. investigators also want to know how Toyota handled sudden acceleration complaints, how much they paid out in warranty claims, and what company executives discussed internally about the sudden acceleration issues.

The NHTSA is also investigating how seriously Toyota considered that electronics could be to blame for the sudden acceleration problem. Scientific and real-life evidence continues to point to an electronic or software glitch as the likely cause of the sudden acceleration incidents.

Toyota is also being investigated by two congressional committees. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing on February 24. The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on the following day.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has planned a similar hearing for March 2.

Source: FOX News

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