LaHood blasts Toyota’s response to faulty accelerators


The Detroit Free Press (2/3, Hyde) reports that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood criticized the pace of Toyota’s response to reports of sticking accelerators in some 2.3 million vehicles, saying “it had taken ‘an enormous effort’ to get Toyota to recall” them, adding that “federal regulators were not done with their investigations.” The Free Press adds that Toyota “had to be pushed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration into its original recall of floor mats that could trap accelerator pedals against the floor. That recall has now expanded to 5.4 million vehicles nationwide, and NHTSA has said it has confirmed the problem is linked to five deaths in two accidents.”
The AP (2/3, Thomas, Manning) also reports that LaHood “sharply criticized” Toyota and accused the automaker of being “‘a little safety deaf’ to mounting evidence of problems.” LaHood also told the AP “that federal safety officials had to ‘wake them up’ to the seriousness of the safety issues that eventually led Toyota to recall millions of popular brands like Camry and Corolla. That included a visit to Toyota’s offices in Japan to convince them to take action.”
NHTSA mulls fine for Toyota. The Detroit News (2/3, Shepardson) also reports on LaHood’s criticism, quoting him as saying, “We’re not finished with Toyota.” The News adds that a “senior” DOT official confirmed that “NHTSA is considering imposing civil penalties on Toyota for its conduct.” The News notes that under US law, “automakers can be fined $16.375 million per recall.” Meanwhile, “Toyota didn’t directly address LaHood’s criticisms in its own statement.”
The Wall Street Journal (2/1, Linebaugh, Mitchell, Shirouzu) also reports on the US government’s response to Toyota’s recall and the safety issues that led up to it. This piece also features LaHood’s criticisms and NHTSA’s plans to possibly fine Toyota, noting that the agency has come under fire for the perception that it did not respond to the crisis quickly enough.
Waxman, Stupak seek assurances electronics not at fault. On the front page of its business section, the &&&New York Times (2/3, B1, Maynard) reports that House Energy and Commerce Secretary Henry Waxman and Rep. Bart Stupak wrote to Toyota USA president James E. Lentz, III, “seeking proof that problems that could cause its cars to speed up unexpectedly were limited to floor mats and sticking pedals,” demanding documents to prove “the computer systems on its cars were not at fault – something Toyota has vigorously denied.”
Prius brake problems reported. The &&&AP (2/3) reports, “Toyota Motor Corp. has been hit by over 100 complaints in the U.S. and Japan about brake problems with the popular Prius hybrid, the latest in a spate of quality troubles for the automaker as it grapples with massive global recalls.” The new Prius gas-electric hybrid, “which went on sale in Japan and the U.S. in May 2009, is not part of the recalls that extend to Europe and China, covering nearly 4.5 million vehicles.”
Bloomberg News (2/3, Srivastava) reports, “Count Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Wozniak among Toyota Motor Corp. car owners who say their vehicles accelerate unintentionally.” In an interview yesterday, Wozniak asked, “Is my software bug also some code that is in the other Priuses and related to the deadly problem?”
Cincinnati Toyota owners to file suit. The Cincinnati Enquirer (2/2, Horn) reported, “Toyota car owners in Cincinnati asked a judge Tuesday to force the auto maker to pay their lease and car loan payments until the company fixes a problem with sticking accelerator pedals. In a class action lawsuit filed in Hamilton County, the car owners also criticized Toyota’s planned fix for the accelerator problem and demanded the company stop selling cars until it comes up with a better solution.” They are represented by attorney Stan Chesley, who said, “Toyota has long known about the defect and has done too little, too late to correct it.”
Ruling expected soon in Biller case. The Los Angeles Times (2/2, Bensinger, Vartabedian) reported, “As Toyota Motor Corp. scrambles to contain its sudden-acceleration crisis, another potential blow to the automaker’s credibility is lurking in the form of a former Toyota attorney who is accusing the automaker in federal court of concealing safety issues from the public. A ruling expected soon in the suit could make public thousands of internal Toyota documents that show the company conspired to hide evidence in court, according to Dimitrios Biller, who defended Toyota in product liability cases until 2007.” If an “arbitrator rules in Biller’s favor, a legion of plaintiff’s attorneys are waiting to reopen long-closed cases against Toyota.”