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Congressman takes aim at Toyota, NHTSA before hearing

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Congressman takes aim at Toyota, NHTSA before hearing

Waxman suspects possible electronics link; Toyota says no evidence has been found

Neil Roland

Automotive News -- February 22, 2010 - 3:31 pm ET

UPDATED: 2/22/10 3:58 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON -- On the eve of a hearing on Toyota Motor Corp. quality issues, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman issued a double blast at the automaker and its U.S. highway safety regulator.

Waxman, D-Calif., said that Toyota documents given to the committee suggest that the automaker has consistently dismissed the possibility that electronic controls could cause unwanted acceleration.

He also said that Toyota's most recent test of electronic interference appears flawed and that the company issued misleading statements about the adequacy of its recent recalls.

"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," he said in a letter today to Jim Lentz, president of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

The letter was co-signed by Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., chairman of the committee's oversight panel.

"We'll be answering the committee's questions tomorrow," Toyota spokeswoman Cindy Knight said.

In a conference call for reporters today about its electronic testing of vehicles, Toyota spokesman John Hanson said, "Some have suggested that unintended acceleration may be caused by something more than mechanical problems," citing the allegation that problems with the electronic throttle-control system may be at fault.

"No actual evidence has been produced," he said.

The committee found that Toyota customer-complaint operators identified floor mats or gas pedals as the cause of only 16 percent of the unintended acceleration reports, the letter said.

In addition, the two recent Toyota recalls have been inadequate, it said. About 70 percent of the acceleration complaints to Toyota have involved vehicles that weren't recalled in October or January, according to the latter.

NHTSA issues raised

In a separate letter, Waxman also criticized the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's responses to consumer complaints of unwanted acceleration in Toyota vehicles.

The agency also lacks the expertise to evaluate defects in electronic controls, it said.

"NHTSA has lacked the expertise needed to address this serious defect and has conducted only cursory and ineffective investigations," the letter said.

NHTSA spokeswoman Olivia Alair responded in an e-mail by saying the agency has conducted 141 investigations tied to throttle control issues since 1980. The agency has "numerous" engineers on staff with experience with these and other electrical engineering issues and consults with outside experts when necessary.

"NHTSA is once again undertaking a comprehensive review of sudden acceleration, including the possible influence of electromagnetic interference, software anomalies or other electronic issues," she said.

Lentz and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood are scheduled to appear tomorrow at the committee hearing.

Waxman's letters told them that they should be prepared to address these issues at the hearing.

Read more: http://www.autonews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100222/RETAIL05/100229964/1290#ixzz0gJJb45hj

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